The United States Supreme Court has held that a San Diego federal district court judge Barry Ted Moskowitz was not authorized to impose a prison sentence in order to promote the defendant’s rehabilitation. In reversing defendant’s criminal sentence, the court has ruled that Judge Moskowitz erroneously lengthened a prison term in order to allow the defendant, a long time drug addict, to qualify for and complete a drug treatment program while serving her time in a federal prison. In coming to this conclusion, the court effectively overruled the Ninth Circuit’s precedent holding that a district court judge may consider the defendant’s rehabilitation needs in setting the length of a prison term.
As a general matter, in determining the appropriate sentence courts are guided by the federal Sentencing Guidelines. Under the Guidelines, a sentencing judge must impose at least one of the following sanctions: imprisonment, probation, or a fine. In determining the appropriate sentence from among these options, a judge is required to consider specific factors, including retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. However, the Supreme Court has determined that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation, and, from now on, district court judges are prohibited from considering rehabilitation in imposing or lengthening prison sentences.
Despite this finding, courts are still permitted to consider rehabilitation in ordering other kinds of sentences. For example, in deciding whether to impose probation or supervised release, a federal district court may require an offender to undergo available medical, psychiatric, or psychological treatment, including treatment for drug or alcohol dependency. Yet, a district court judge has no authority to order a defendant to be placed in a particular facility or program when it imposes a sentence requiring incarceration. Rather, the authority to make such a placement rests within the Bureau of Prisons, and a federal judge may only recommend that the Bureau of Prisons place a defendant in a particular facility.
The San Diego Law Office of Domenic J. Lombardo is dedicated to defending criminal charges in state, federal, and county courts throughout San Diego. For a free consultation, contact us at (619) 232-5122, or: [email protected].