Tapia v. United States


May a judge imprison a defendant, or sentence a defendant to a longer prison term, in order for the defendant to participate in a rehabilitation program?

Oral argument: 
April 18, 2011

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