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Second Circuit Holds BOP Correct in Not Granting Good Conduct Credits for Time Spent in State Custody

On March 26, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Holwell granted a habeas corpus petition filed by a federal prisoner challenging the refusal of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to award good conduct time (GCT) for time spent in state custody on a related state sentence. That ruling, however, was later reversed by the Second Circuit.

On June 19, 2008, Frank Lopez was sentenced by Judge Holwell to a federal prison term for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. By then Holwell had served about eight years in state prison for a state drug charge stemming from the same conduct that resulted in the federal charges. Pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5G1.3(b), Judge Holwell ordered that Lopez be given credit for all the time he had spent in state and federal custody since August 11, 2000. He also ordered Lopez’s federal sentence to run concurrent with his state prison sentence.

After completing the related state sentence, Lopez entered the BOP and noticed that the BOP had failed to award him GCT for the time he spent in state custody. He filed a habeas petition arguing that he was entitled to GCT for the time he served during his state prison sentence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b). The BOP argued that Lopez was not eligible for GCT because, among other things, he had already received similar credit on his state sentence.

Judge Holwell sided with Lopez, ordering the BOP to “recalculate Lopez’s GCT ... based on a term of imprisonment that began when [Lopez] was arrested on August 11, 2000.” In so holding, Judge Holwell interpreted the phrase “term of imprisonment” in 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b) “to encompass all of the time a prisoner serves for the federal offense, whether before or after the sentence date, and, if before the sentence date, whether credited under 18 U.S.C. § 3585(b) or U.S.S.G. § 5G1.3.”

Judge Holwell’s decision was influenced largely by the BOP’s policy of awarding GCT based on pre-trial confinement in other situations. “[I]f an absurd result is to be avoided,” Judge Holwell wrote, “§ 3624 must be interpreted to allow [Lopez] and other prisoners who receive credit under § 5G1.3(b) to earn GCT for time spent in presentence custody.” See: Lopez v. Terrell, 697 F.Supp.2d 549 (S.D. NY 2010).

On appeal, however, the Second Circuit found that Lopez was “not eligible for good conduct time (GCT) for time he spent in state and federal custody on his state conviction,” because his “presentence custody had already been credited against his state sentence.” In a July 13, 2011 ruling, the Court of Appeals held that it was persuaded by the BOP’s interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b) as to how GCT should be applied to Lopez’s state and federal prison sentences.

The district court’s grant of habeas relief was therefore reversed. See: Lopez v. Terrell, ___ F.3d ___ (2d Cir. 2011); 2011 WL 2708924.

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Lopez v. Terrell

Lopez v. Terrell