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Released Prisoner's Jail Sentence Appeal Moot

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Be careful what you petition for.

David Rhodes was convicted on drug-related charges in 1993, and sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment and ten years' supervised release. In 2010, Rhodes filed a petition challenging the Federal Bureau of Prisons' calculation of his sentence. The district court dismissed the petition as moot. Why? Because Rhodes was no longer in prison.

Rhodes' petition failed on redressability. Federal law allows a court to terminate a term of supervised release after one year, but Rhodes challenged the jail sentence he served in the past, not the supervised release he is currently serving.

Rhodes conceded that he was no longer incarcerated, but claimed he could still challenge his sentence. He argued that, had his sentence been shorter, he would have started his term of supervised release earlier, and was consequently “suffering from collateral consequences from conviction.”

The Tenth Circuit disagreed. Rhodes even argued that a favorable outcome on this petition would bolster a subsequent request for shortened supervised release in the future. The court still wouldn't throw him a bone.

The injury Rhodes complains of, an excessive sentence, is not redressable because no court can issue a judgment that would remedy the harm he allegedly suffered. And yet, the court actually seems sympathetic to Rhodes. In his opinion, Judge Carlos Lucero writes, "we are not allowed to give him a judicial make-up call by shortening his supervised release term. Accordingly, the best this court could do for him would be to declare that he spent longer in prison than he should have. That is, all we could do is enter an advisory opinion. That is not enough to satisfy Article III."

Had Rhodes challenged his sentence on the same grounds while still in jail, the court would have the power to help him. Because he challenged the sentence during the legal limbo that constitutes his first year of supervised release, the matter no longer qualified as a case or controversy.

Rhodes, instead, must contest his supervised release.

David Rhodes may be stuck in supervised release for now, but the court showered him with compliments as a consolation prize. In a footnote, Judge Lucero commented that Rhodes, who represented himself pro se, "understands the law, writes exceptionally clearly, and has advanced his federal habeas claims in a thoroughly lawyerly manner."

You lose. But at least you write like a lawyer.

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