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No Collateral Consequences: Released Prisoner's Case is Moot

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

Kelly Huff was sentenced to 12 months in prison and three years' supervised release after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Because Huff already had spent more than a year in prison while awaiting trial, her period of supervised release began on July 22, 2008.

In 2010 and 2011, the United States Probation Office filed two Petitions on Supervised Release, alleging that Huff had violated the terms of her release. Huff conceded the violations, and the district court ordered her back to jail for 10 months with no subsequent period of supervised release.

Huff appealed, claiming that the sentence was substantively unreasonable. But, as she was released from custody almost two months early, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decided that her appeal was moot.

We all know that Article III requires a live case or controversy. Without a personal stake in the outcome, a litigant's case becomes moot and must be dismissed, even if had once been a live controversy.

If Huff were still serving her 10-month sentence, or if she were still subject to a term of supervised release, then the court could have considered the merits of her case. Instead, she was out of luck because she was out of jail.

Once a litigant is unconditionally released from criminal confinement, she must prove that he or she suffers a continuing injury from the collateral consequences attaching to the challenged act in order to continue her appeal.

In Sibron v. New York, the Supreme Court carved a narrow exception to this rule by allowing the presumption of collateral consequences for a litigant challenging a criminal conviction. However, in Spencer v. Kemna, the Court held that Sibron's presumption of collateral consequences does not apply to parole revocations. (The Court extended Spencer to an appeal involving a probation violation in United States v. Kissinger.)

In Huff's case, the Third Circuit held precedentially that Sibron's presumption of collateral consequences does not apply to supervised release revocations. Accordingly, consistent with Spencer, a litigant who is unconditionally released from custody must show that she will, in fact, suffer collateral consequences from the supervised release revocation to present a live case or controversy.

Because Huff did not argue that she would, in fact, suffer collateral consequences. Her unconditional release rendered her case moot.

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