ABA: U.S. Supreme Court Updates. June 8, 2010.

A Service from the ABA Criminal Justice Section, http://www.abanet.org/crimjust

Received: June 8, 2010.

· Barber v. Thomas (No. 09-5201)

· United States v. Juvenile Male (No. 09-940)


Barber v. Thomas (No. 09-5201)

United States Supreme Court Decision: Decided: June 7, 2010
In a 6-3 decision today the Supreme Court determined that the Bureau of Prison’s (BOP) current method for calculating good time credit proscribed in 18 U.S.C. §3624(b)(1) is both lawful and correct. The government maintained that under §3624 time for good behavior is calculated at the conclusion of each year. In contrast, petitioner argued that calculation should be based upon the term of imprisonment that the sentencing judge imposes, not the length of time actually served.

The Court noted that the movement under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 towards a retrospective reward* of reduced time justified the current reading of ‘term of imprisonment’ whereby good behavior is awarded at the end of each term served. Currently under the BOP methodology well-behaved prisoners are given 54 days of credit for each full year of imprisonment and these days are compounded to reduce the overall length of a prisoners stay based on a deduction of these days at the end of a prisoner’s term.

Petitioners, two federal inmates, argued instead that the days should be credited right away and therefore recalculate the start of the prisoners second year by 54 fewer days. The underlying question was whether ‘term of imprisonment’ should be construed to mean the entire term imposed by the judge (resulting in a prospective overall sentence reduction of 15%) or the time already served (resulting in a yearly reduction of a up to 54 days). Petitioners maintain that on average, prisoners lose seven days of good behavior per year under the current model.

The Court rejected this argument noting the plain language of §3624 contemplated that the prisoner would receive credit “of up to 54 days at the end of each year subject to the determination of the BOP that, during that year, the prisoner” had behaved in an exemplary fashion. Barber v. Thomas, 560 U.S. ___ (2010). Additionally, the Court noted that the BOP’s methodology furthers the objectives of awarding good behavior credits for the preceding year of imprisonment, or time served.

Judgment affirmed.

BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,

C. J., and SCALIA, THOMAS, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. KEN-NEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion in which STEVENS and GINSBURG, JJ., joined.

Decision available at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/09-5201.pdf

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