Oral argument: Apr. 18, 2011
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Apr. 16, 2010)
SENTENCING, REHABILITATION, IMPRISONMENT, FEDERAL SENTENCING GUIDELINES
Alejandra Tapia was convicted of smuggling illegal aliens and sentenced to fifty-one months in prison. At her sentencing, the district court factored in her history of substance abuse in its decision to give her a sentence beyond the minimum term so that she could enter and complete an in-custody drug rehabilitation program. Tapia appealed her sentence to the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed the district court's decision. Citing a circuit split, Tapia appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted certiorari to determine whether it was proper for the district court judge to cite Tapia's rehabilitative needs in ordering a longer prison sentence. Petitioner Tapia contends that the plain meaning of the Sentencing Reform Act and the legislative history behind this Act confirm that rehabilitation is an inappropriate consideration in prison sentencing. The United States agrees with Tapia and urges vacating the lower court decision. Writing as amicus curiae by invitation of the Supreme Court, Professor Stephanos Bibas asserts that under the Sentencing Reform Act, district courts may properly consider the rehabilitative potential of in-prison targeted treatment programs when determining a prison sentence. Ultimately, this decision will impact when a district court may use incarceration to punish defendants and may also affect particular groups of defendants sentenced to incarceration.