503 U.S. 329 (1992), 90-1745, United States v. Wilson

Docket Nº:No. 90-1745
Citation:503 U.S. 329, 112 S.Ct. 1351, 117 L.Ed.2d 593, 60 U.S.L.W. 4244
Party Name:United States v. Wilson
Case Date:March 24, 1992
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 329

503 U.S. 329 (1992)

112 S.Ct. 1351, 117 L.Ed.2d 593, 60 U.S.L.W. 4244

United States

v.

Wilson

No. 90-1745

United States Supreme Court

March 24, 1992

Argued Jan. 15, 1992

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In sentencing respondent Wilson to prison for violating the Hobbs Act, the District Court denied his request for credit under 18 U.S.C. § 3585(b) for the time he had spent in presentence detention by Tennessee authorities. After a state trial court credited such time against his prison term for state law convictions, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's ruling, holding that he had a right to federal credit and that the District Court should have awarded it to him.

Held: It is the Attorney General who computes the amount of the § 3585(b) credit after the defendant has begun to serve his sentence. Pp. 331-337.

(a) Effective in 1987, § 3585(b) -- which specifies, inter alia, that

[a] defendant shall be given credit toward [his] term of imprisonment for any time he has spent in official detention prior to the date the sentence commences,

[112 S.Ct. 1352] if such time "has not been credited against another sentence" (emphasis added) -- replaced a statute which had provided, among other things, that "[the Attorney General] shall give any such person credit" (emphasis added). Under the predecessor statute, the Attorney General, through the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), computed the amount of credit after taking custody of the sentenced federal offender. Pp. 331-333.

(b) Section 3585(b) does not authorize a district court to compute the credit at sentencing. By stating crucial verbs in the past and present perfect tenses, the section indicates that the computation must occur after the defendant begins his sentence. A sentencing court, therefore, cannot apply the section. Indeed, the District Court here could not have made the necessary computation at sentencing, since the credit is based on how much time a defendant "has spent" (not "will have spent") prior to beginning his sentence. The court did not then know when the state court proceedings would end or when the federal authorities would take Wilson into custody, and only could have speculated about the amount of time that he would spend in detention. Moreover, it is immaterial that such detention "ha[d] not been credited" against a state sentence at the time of Wilson's federal sentencing, since basing the award of credit on the relative timing of sentencing proceedings would result in arbitrary awards. Pp. 333-334.

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(c) In light of the sentencing court's inability to compute the credit, the Attorney General must continue to make the calculation as he did in the past, even though § 3585(b) no longer mentions him. The offender has a right to certain jail-time credit under the section, and BOP must know how much of a sentence remains in order to fulfill its statutory duty of administering the sentence. Congress' conversion of the former statute's active language into the passive voice in § 3585(b) is a slim ground for presuming an intention to change well-established procedures for determining the credit. Pp. 334-336.

(d) The general presumption that Congress contemplates a change whenever it amends a statute is overcome in this case by the foregoing analysis. Because the statute was entirely rewritten, and because any other interpretation would require this Court to stretch § 3585(b)'s language, it is likely that the former reference to the Attorney General was simply lost in the shuffle. This interpretation does not render the 1987 revision meaningless, since Congress altered the predecessor statute in at least three other ways. Pp. 336-337.

916 F.2d 1115, reversed.

THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 337.

THOMAS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

A defendant convicted of a federal crime has a right under 18 U.S.C. § 3585(b) to receive credit for certain time spent in official detention before his sentence begins. In this case, we must decide whether the District Court calculates the credit at the time of sentencing or whether the Attorney General computes it after the defendant has begun to serve his sentence.

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I

In the summer and early fall of 1988, respondent Richard Wilson committed several crimes in Putnam County, Tennessee. The precise details of these crimes do not concern us here. It suffices to state that Tennessee authorities arrested Wilson on October 5, 1988, and held him in jail pending [112 S.Ct. 1353] the outcome of federal and state prosecutions. After certain preliminary proceedings, Wilson eventually pleaded guilty to various federal and state criminal charges.

On November 29, 1989, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee sentenced Wilson to 96 months' imprisonment for violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951. The District Court denied Wilson's request for credit for time served during his presentence state custody. On December 12, 1989, a Tennessee trial court sentenced Wilson to several years' imprisonment for robbery and two other felonies. In contrast to the District Court, the state court granted Wilson 429 days of credit toward his state sentence. Later that day, Tennessee authorities transferred Wilson to federal custody, and he began serving his federal sentence.

Wilson appealed the District Court's refusal to give him credit for the time that he had spent in state custody. Reversing the District Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that Wilson had a right to credit, and that the District Court should have awarded it to him. 916 F.2d 1115 (1990). We granted certiorari, 502 U.S. 807 (1991), and now reverse.

II

The Attorney General, through the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), has responsibility for imprisoning federal offenders. See 18 U.S.C. § 3621(a). From 1966 until 1987, a provision codified at 18 U.S.C. § 3568 (1982 ed.) required the Attorney General to award federal prisoners credit for certain time

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spent in jail prior to the commencement of their sentences. This provision, in part, stated:

The Attorney General shall give any such person credit toward service of his sentence for any days spent in custody in connection with the offense or acts for which sentence was imposed.

Pub.L. 89-465, § 4, 80 Stat. 217 (emphasis added). The Attorney General implemented this provision by computing the amount of credit after taking custody of the sentenced federal offender. Although the federal courts could review the Attorney General's determination, the sentencing court did not participate in computation of the credit. See, e.g., United States v. Morgan, 425 F.2d 1388, 1389-1390 (CA5 1970).

In the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. § 3551 et seq., which became effective in 1987, Congress rewrote § 3568 and recodified it at § 3585(b). Unlike its predecessor, § 3585(b) does not mention the Attorney General. Written in the passive voice, it states:

A defendant shall be given credit toward the service of a term of imprisonment for any time he has spent in official detention prior to the date the sentence commences --

(1) as a result of the offense for which the sentence was imposed; or

(2) as a result of any other charge for which the defendant was arrested after the commission of the offense for which the sentence was imposed;

that has not been credited against another sentence.

18 U.S.C. § 3585(b) (emphasis added).

In describing the defendant's right to receive jail-time credit in this manner, the provision has created doubt about whether district courts now may award credit when imposing a sentence. The question has significance in this case

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because the final clause of § 3585(b) allows a defendant to receive credit only for detention time "that has not been credited against another sentence." When the District Court imposed Wilson's 96-month sentence on November 29, 1989, Wilson had not yet received credit for his detention time from the Tennessee courts. However, by the time the Attorney General imprisoned Wilson on December 12, 1989, the Tennessee trial court had awarded Wilson 429 days of credit. As a result, Wilson could receive a larger credit if the statute permitted crediting at sentencing, and [112 S.Ct. 1354] thus before the detention time had been credited against another sentence.

The United States argues that it is the Attorney General who computes the amount of the credit after the defendant begins his sentence, and that the Court of Appeals erred in ordering the District Court to award credit to Wilson. Wilson counters that § 3585(b) authorizes the District Court to compute the amount of the credit at sentencing. We agree with the United States.

A

We do not accept Wilson's argument that § 3585(b) authorizes a district court to award credit at sentencing. Section 3585(b) indicates that a defendant may receive credit against a sentence that "was imposed." It also specifies that the amount of the credit depends on the time that the defendant "has spent" in official detention "prior to the date the sentence commences." Congress' use of a verb tense is significant in construing statutes. See, e.g., Otte v. United States, 419 U.S. 43, 49-50 (1974); Gwaltney of Smithfield, Ltd. v. Chesapeake Bay Foundation Inc., 484 U.S. 49, 63-64, n. 4 (1987). By using these verbs in the past and present perfect tenses, Congress has indicated that computation of the credit must occur after the defendant begins his sentence. A district court, therefore, cannot apply § 3585(b) at sentencing.

Federal defendants do not always begin to serve their sentences immediately. In this case, the...

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