447 U.S. 381 (1980), 79-5010, Bifulco v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 79-5010
Citation:447 U.S. 381, 100 S.Ct. 2247, 65 L.Ed.2d 205
Party Name:Bifulco v. United States
Case Date:June 16, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 381

447 U.S. 381 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 2247, 65 L.Ed.2d 205

Bifulco

v.

United States

No. 79-5010

United States Supreme Court

June 16, 1980

Argued February 27, 1980

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Section 406 of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 (Act) provides that

[a]ny person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this title is punishable by imprisonment or fine or both which may not exceed the maximum punishment prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy

(the "target offense"). Petitioner and others were convicted of violating § 406 by conspiring to violate § 401(a)(1) of the Act by knowingly manufacturing, distributing, and possessing a controlled substance. In accordance with the provisions of § 401(b)(1)(B) prescribing penalties for violations of § 401(a)(1), petitioner was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, a fine, and a 5-year special parole term to be served upon completion of the term of imprisonment. The Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction, and thereafter he filed an action under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence, claiming that the sentence was unlawful because § 406 does not authorize the imposition of a special parole term. The District Court held that petitioner had been properly sentenced, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 406 of the Act does not authorize the imposition of a special parole term even though that sanction is included within the penalty provision of the target offense. Pp. 387-401.

(a) A "plain meaning" interpretation of the term "imprisonment" in § 406 does not support the position that the term means a term of incarceration plus special parole made applicable by the target offense's penalty provisions. Moreover, the structure of the Act read as a whole supports the conclusion that § 406 defines the types of punishment authorized for conspirators -- imprisonment, fine, or both -- and sets maximum limits on those sanctions through reference to the penalty provisions of the target offense, but does not incorporate by reference any provisions for special parole. Pp. 388-390.

(b) Nor does the Act's legislative history demonstrate that Congress intended that the penalties authorized for substantive offenses, and those for conspiracies to commit them, were to be identical, thus authorizing

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special parole terms for conspiracy convictions. Instead, the history supports the view that § 406 authorizes two types of sanctions -- fines and imprisonment -- and fixes the maximum amount of each that may be imposed by reference to the target offense's penalty provisions. Pp. 391-398.

[100 S.Ct. 2250] (c) A reading of § 406 to include the special parole provisions of target offenses cannot be supported on the ground that Congress' principal objective in enacting the Act's penalty provisions -- to deter professional criminals from engaging in drug trafficking for profit -- renders it unreasonable to ascribe to Congress the intent to authorize special parole for isolated substantive offenses while withholding this sentencing tool for conspiracies. A comparison of those drug offenses for which Congress clearly authorized special parole terms with those for which it clearly did not does not reveal a coherent pattern based on the asserted justification for escalated sanctions. Moreover, since § 406 deals with both conspiracies and attempts, and prescribes an identical range of punishment for both, it is not surprising that Congress would provide for less stringent sanctions to be imposed for violations of § 406 than for a completed substantive offense. Pp. 398-399.

600 F.2d 407, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 401. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 402.

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue presented in this case is whether § 406 of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of

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1970 (Act); 84 Stat. 1265, 21 U.S.C. § 846,1 authorizes a sentencing court to impose a term of special parole upon a defendant who is convicted of conspiracy to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance.

I

Section 406 provides:

Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this title is punishable by imprisonment or fine or both which may not exceed the maximum punishment prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.

The object of the conspiracy at issue in this case was the commission of the substantive offense defined in § 401(a) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a). That subsection reads:

Except as authorized by this title, it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally --

(1) to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or

(2) to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.

The penalties for violations of § 401(a) are set forth in § 401(b). That subsection authorizes the imposition of terms of imprisonment, fines, and, in some instances, mandatory minimum terms of special parole. The range of permissible punishments varies depending on the nature of the controlled substance involved, and on whether the defendant has been convicted previously of a drug offense. The penalty provision at issue is § 401(b)(1)(b).2 It states:

Except as otherwise provided in section 405 [which

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deals with distribution to minors], any person who violates subsection(a) of this section shall be sentenced as follows:

* * * *

In the case of a controlled substance in schedule I or II which is not a narcotic drug or in the case of any controlled substance in schedule III, such person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than 5 years, a fine or [100 S.Ct. 2251] not more than $15,000, or both. If any person commits such a violation after one or more prior convictions of him for an offense punishable under this paragraph, or for a felony under any other provision of this title or title III or other law of the United States relating to narcotic drugs, marihuana, or depressant or stimulant substances, have become final, such person shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not more than 10 years, a fine of not more than $30,000, or both. Any sentence imposing a term of imprisonment under this paragraph shall, in the absence of such a prior conviction, impose a special parole term of at least 2 years in addition to such term of imprisonment and shall, if there was such a prior conviction, impose a special parole term of at least 4 years in addition to such term of imprisonment.

Section 401(c) describes the operation of the special parole term provisions in greater detail. It states:

A special parole term imposed under this section or section 405 may be revoked if its terms and conditions are violated. In such circumstances the original term of imprisonment shall be increased by the period of the special parole term and the resulting new term of imprisonment shall not be diminished by the time which was spent on special parole. A person whose special parole

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term has been revoked may be required to serve all or part of the remainder of the new term of imprisonment. A special parole term provided for in this section or section 405 shall be in addition to, and not in lieu of, any other parole provided for by law.

The narrow, but important, question presented in this case is whether § 406, which states the penalty for conspiracy as "imprisonment or fine or both," but limits maximum punishment by reference to the penalty provisions of the substantive target offense, authorizes the imposition of a special parole term where that sanction is included within the penalty provisions of the target offense.

II

In an indictment filed in December, 1976, with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, petitioner Alphonse Bifulco and others were charged with a single count of conspiring to violate § 401(a)(1) by knowingly and intentionally manufacturing, distributing, and possessing substantial quantities of phencyclidine, a schedule III controlled substance. This conspiracy was charged as a. violation of § 406. A jury found petitioner and several codefendants guilty of the offense charged, and petitioner was sentenced to a 4-year term of imprisonment, a fine of $1,000, and a 5-year special parole term.3 The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit subsequently affirmed petitioner's conviction in an unpublished order.

In January, 1979, petitioner, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, filed pro se a motion to vacate his sentence. He claimed that

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the sentence was unlawful because § 406 does not authorize the imposition of a special parole term to be served upon completion of a term of imprisonment. The District Court held that petitioner had been properly sentenced, and dismissed his complaint. App. 7.

On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed. 600 F.2d 407 (1979). In a per curiam opinion, that court followed two other Courts of Appeals that had held that § 406 authorizes the imposition of a special parole term. See United States v. Burman, 584 F.2d 1354, 1356-1358 (CA4 1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1118 (1979), and United States v. Jacobson, 578 F.2d 863, 867-868 (CA10), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 932 (1978). It also relied on the decision in [100 S.Ct. 2252] United States v. Dankert, 507 F.2d 190 (CA5 1975), which reached a similar result with respect to the...

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