Appealed from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Oral argument: March 30, 2010
SENTENCING, PRISON TERM, BUREAU OF PRISONS, LENITY, DEFERENCE
Petitioners Michael Barber and Tahir Jihad-Black are serving sentences in federal prison for various gun and drug charges. The Ninth Circuit allowed Petitioners to consolidate their cases with several earlier cases in order to petition the Supreme Court for certiorari. Petitioners are challenging the Bureau of Prisons’ (“BOP”) interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b), which allows well-behaved and compliant federal-prisoners to receive up to 54 days off their sentences for “each year of the prisoner’s term of imprisonment.” Petitioners argue that “term of imprisonment” means the total sentence imposed by the court. Respondent contends that it refers to the prisoners’ actual time served. The standard of computation ends up differing because under Petitioners’ method, a prisoner receives good behavior credit for years they do not end up serving. Petitioners argue that the courts do not owe the BOP’s interpretation deference, because the statute is unambiguous and the record does not contain any reason for the BOP’s interpretation. Even if the statute is ambiguous, Petitioners argue that the rule of lenity should apply. The rule of lenity holds that when considering penal statutes, the courts should resolve any ambiguity in the defendant’s favor. Respondent agrees that the statute is unambiguous, but counters that it instead requires computation of good time credit on the basis of time served. Respondent also argues that even if the statute is ambiguous, the rule of lenity does not apply because the statute is civil rather than penal.