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Prison Sentence Imposed for Sole Purpose of Drug Treatment Vacated by Eighth Circuit

In a “plain error” reversal of a district court’s order imposing a 24-month sentence on a defendant who violated the terms of his supervised release for the sole purpose of ensuring that he could participate in a prison-based substance abuse program, the Eighth Circuit reasserted the rule set forth in Tapia v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2382 (2011), which prohibits such sentencing rationales.

Colt Matthew Taylor originally received a 42-month prison sentence for a drug offense, then received an additional six months in prison and 30 months of supervised release for using drugs after he was initially released. As a condition of his supervised release he was required to stay at a particular residential facility for 120 days following his completion of the six-month sentence.

Taylor failed to report to the facility and admitted he had used alcohol, and the district court sentenced him to an additional 24 months in prison with no post-release supervision, stating that it was “using that number because that makes him eligible to participate in the 500-hour drug program available in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).” Taylor appealed.

In Tapia, the Supreme Court held that a sentencing court may not “‘select [] the length of the sentence’ to ensure completion of a rehabilitation program.”

The Court of Appeals wrote that it agreed “with those circuit courts which have concluded that Tapia applies upon revocation of supervised release as well as at an initial sentencing.” Thus, the Eighth Circuit found the district court had committed plain error “when it sentenced Taylor to 24 months” for the sole reason that it made him eligible to participate in the BOP’s substance abuse program.

Finding that the error “affected Taylor’s substantial rights in a manner that seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings,” the 24-month sentence imposed by the district court was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing. See: United States v. Taylor, 679 F.3d 1005 (8th Cir. 2012).

Following remand, Taylor was resentenced to 12 months in prison with credit for time served and no term of supervised release.

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Related legal case

United States v. Taylor