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Let's Get Metaphysical: Life Minus Time Served Equals...?

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Michael Cassesse was sentenced to 12 months in prison and a lifetime of supervised release for supervised release violation stemming from a racketeering conviction. He argued to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that the 12 months in prison for the supervised release violation should have been subtracted from the lifetime term of supervised release.

But is there a practical way to deduct the 12 months?

Second Circuit Judge Jon Newman wrote in the panel opinion, "This appeal presents primarily the almost metaphysical issue of how, if at all, a lifetime term of supervised release, imposed for a supervised release violation, should be reduced by the number of months of a prison term imposed for that same violation, a subtraction we are willing to assume is required by the literal terms of the provisions governing supervised release."

During sentencing, Judge Sandra Townes noted that Cassesse's racketeering offense was a violation of his supervised release term for prior drug convictions. As part of a plea agreement, Cassesse agreed to plead guilty to the supervised release violation in exchange for the government's recommendation that any additional prison term for that violation be served concurrently with the 90-month racketeering sentence.

Judge Townes accepted Cassesse's guilty plea but rejected the parties' recommendation of a concurrent term, imposing instead a sentence of 12 months of imprisonment for the supervised release violation to run consecutively to the 90 month term for the racketeering conviction. The district court also imposed a new lifetime term of supervised release.

Cassesse questioned the procedural reasonableness of the sentence on appeal, and claimed that the district court was required by statute to deduct the prison term from the new supervised release term.

Relying on the Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. U.S., Cassesse argued "If some 'part' of the term of supervised release is served in prison after a violation, then the 'part' of the term that remains after that prison sentence is served is less than the whole, original release term." The government essentially agreed with him.

The intriguing question for the court was whether -- and how -- the prison term reduction concept applied to a renewed lifetime term of supervised release. While answering the question may be a good intellectual exercise -- or law school exam question, for you adjuncts -- the panel concluded that "this is one of those rare situations where Congress did not expect the literal terms of its handiwork to be applied to a lifetime term of supervised release."

For practical purposes, the Second Circuit's decision distinguishes between finite terms and infinite terms. A defendant sentenced to 10 years' supervised release and 3 years in prison can subtract the prison term from the supervised release term, yielding a maximum allowable renewed term of 7 years. A defendant sentenced to a lifetime term of supervised release can't deduct a 3-year prison term from the renewed release term.

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