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Winter 2010 -- FAMMGram (US)

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Challenge To BOP "Good Time" Calculation!

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For many years, prisoners, FAMM and others have asked the federal courts to strike down the way the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) awards good time credit to federal prisoners. Now a new Supreme Court case (Barber v. Thomas, No. 09-5201) challenges the way the BOP calculates good time credit.

The federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b), tells the BOP to award "up to 54 days at the end of each year of the prisoner's term of imprisonment." FAMM agrees with prisoners who argue that the phrase "term of imprisonment" means the sentence imposed and that any credit should be applied to the full sentence. So, a 10-year sentence should generate 540 days of good time credit. A prisoner with a 10-year sentence who does not lose any good time credit is entitled to see his sentenced reduced by the full 540 days. The BOP has always held that the term means "time served," and refused to apply the credit to the sentence beyond the time served. The difference: seven days for every year of the imposed sentence, or only 470 days credit on a 10-year sentence.

The Supreme Court will answer two questions. First, does "'term of imprisonment' . . . unambiguously require the computation of good time on the basis of the sentence imposed" and "if 'term of imprisonment' in the federal good time statute is ambiguous, does the rule of lenity and deference appropriate to the U.S. Sentencing Commission require that good time credits be awarded based on the sentence imposed?" FAMM will file a friend of the court (amicus) brief in the case in support of the prisoners' arguments. The outcome of the case does not affect pending legislation in Congress. You can visit to find briefs, frequently asked questions, and other information to follow the case. See the Fall 2009 FAMMGram, p. 13, for a discussion about FAMM's amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to review the case (reprinted below). A decision in the case is expected by June 30.

Fall 2009 -- FAMMGram (US)

New Good Time Challenge Seeking Supreme Court Consideration


In Tablada v. Thomas (No. 08-1134), the petitioner asks the Supreme Court of the United States to review how the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) awards good conduct credit.

Tablada challenges the way the BOP interprets 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b). The BOP assumes that the 54 days of credit a prisoner may earn annually to reduce his sentence is calculated according to the actual time a prisoner spends in prison (thus excluding from consideration those days for which sentence was imposed but which the prisoner won't serve because of good time credits). Tablada argues, and FAMM and others agree, that the sentence imposed must be the starting point. Thus, the 54 days credit annually must be applied to reduce the full term of the sentence, not the sentence as shortened by good time. The BOP's interpretation means that prisoners are entitled to reduce their sentence by 47 days a year. Tablada's interpretation means that prisoners are entitled to reduce their sentences by 54 days a year. By the BOP's reasoning, a prisoner serving a 10-year sentence can only have their sentenced reduced by 470 days, while under Tablada's reasoning (and Congress's intent), that prisoner is entitled to 540 days reduction.

This case is the latest in several appeals to the Supreme Court to examine the issue. The Court has denied certiorari (in other words, denied review) in several cases, including in Moreland v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 547 U.S. 1106 (2006), in which Justice Stevens wrote:

I think it appropriate to emphasize that the Court's action does not constitute a ruling on the merits and certainly does not represent an expression of any opinion concerning the wisdom of the Government's position. [B]oth the text and the history of the statute strongly suggest that it was not intended to alter the pre-existing approach of calculating good-time credit based on the sentence imposed. FAMM has offered amicus support to many cases in the courts of appeals challenging the BOP's method of calculating good time. In Tablada, FAMM joined the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), the National Association of Federal Defenders (NAFD), and Prison Fellowship Ministries, among others, in urging the Supreme Court to grant review. FAMM is very grateful to Peter Pfaffenroth and Jeffrey T. Green, who led a team of lawyers from the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, D.C., and the Northwestern University Supreme Court Practicum in Chicago, Ill. for representing us.

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