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 joined a number of organizations, including the National Association of Federal Defenders, the ACLU Prisoner Rights’ Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in filing a brief supporting the petitioner. To download and read our brief, click here.
In it, we explain why the statute that provides for good time credits clearly requires the BOP to award a full 54 days of credit per year of sentence to qualified prisoners. It also explains that if the Supreme Court does not think the statute is so clear, it should use a device used by the courts, called the rule of lenity, to settle any confusion in favor of the prisoner.
Kudos to the Oregon defender team for getting the Court’s attention: Chief Deputy Federal Public Defender, Steve Sady and Research and Writing Attorney Lynn Deffebach. Steve and Lynn have never given up the good fight on this issue and their persistence paid off. FAMM has been proud to be a part of this effort over the years and will look forward to watching Steve argue Barber before the Supreme Court on March 30, 2010.
FAMM is grateful to amicus authors from the law firm of Sidley & Austin, led by Jeffrey T. Green and Peter Pfaffenroth in Washington D.C. FAMM’s amicus team for Barber included Margy Love, David Lewis and Peter Goldberger.