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Supervised Release Term Does Not Limit Prison Sentence Upon Violation

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held “that upon revocation of supervised release a defendant may be sentenced to the felony class limits contained in [18 U.S.C.] § 3583(e)(3) without regard to imprisonment previously served for revocation of supervised release.”

After the third revocation of his federal supervised release, John Cunningham was sentenced to 24 months in prison. He was originally sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment with three years of supervised release for failure to register as a sex offender. He violated his release provisions and was sentenced to eight months in prison and 24 months’ supervised release. He violated again and received a 14-month prison sentence with 14 months of supervised release.

Upon the third violation, the court imposed the 24-month sentence with no supervised release. On appeal, Cunningham claimed that sentence was illegal because it exceeded the term of his supervised release. He argued the aggregate limitation contained in § 3583(h) constrained the sentence “authorized by statute” in § 3583(e)(3).

In other words, he asserted his prison sentence could not exceed the term of supervised release ordered by the district court. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed on de novo review.

The appellate court discerned Congress’ intent by examining the statute’s history, which demonstrated that 1) subsequent revocations are not dependent on the term of supervised release initially imposed; 2) statutory caps are per-revocation limits not subject to aggregation; and 3) another term of supervised release may be imposed after release following revocation and reimprisonment subject to credit for prior revocation.

“While the aggregation requirement of § 3583(h) places an indirect constraint upon the total amount of revocation imprisonment a defendant may receive, it does so by limiting post-imprisonment supervision, not circumscribing the plain language of § 3583(e)(3),” the Court of Appeals wrote. It therefore affirmed Cunningham’s 24-month sentence. See: United States v. Cunningham, 800 F.3d 1290 (11th Cir. 2015).

Similar arguments regarding aggregate limitations on federal prison sentences imposed after violations of supervised release have been rejected by the D.C., Third and Tenth Circuit courts. 

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Related legal case

United States v. Cunningham