Oral argument: Dec. 6, 2010
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (July 2, 2009)
FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES, POST-SENTENCING REHABILITATION, LAW OF THE CASE DOCTRINE
After his arrest in 2003, Jason Pepper pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cooperated with the authorities by testifying against his co-defendants. Due to his lack of prior convictions, cooperation with the authorities, and his desire to seek drug treatment, the district court judge gave Pepper a 24-months prison sentence, which was substantially below the 97 to 121 months recommended by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The Eighth Circuit reversed for resentencing, determining that the district court abused its discretion by decreasing Pepper's sentence based on the court's desire to give Pepper the shortest possible sentence. During the appeal, Pepper successfully completed his sentence, married, stayed drug-free, obtained a job, and achieved straight A's in college. Upon remand to the district court, Pepper was again sentenced to 24 months in prison, this time due to his post-sentence rehabilitation. The Eighth Circuit again reversed for resentencing, finding that the judge could not consider post-sentencing rehabilitation in choosing a sentence below the Guidelines. The district court, under a new judge, increased Pepper's sentence significantly and sent him back to prison after he had been out for several years. Pepper argued that this was improper because post-sentencing rehabilitation is an appropriate factor to consider during resentencing, and the new judge violated the "law of the case" doctrine by not following part of the previous judge's determination. In this case, the Supreme Court will determine whether post-sentence rehabilitation is a proper factor to consider in resentencing, and whether the law of the case doctrine applies to Pepper's appeal.