Roberts v. United States 15 8212 18, 1943

Decision Date22 November 1943
Docket NumberNo. 19,19
Citation64 S.Ct. 113,88 L.Ed. 41,320 U.S. 264
PartiesROBERTS v. UNITED STATES. Argued Oct. 15—18, 1943
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Newton B. Powell, of Decatur, Ala., for petitioner.

Mr. Paul A. Freund, of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In April, 1938, petitioner pleaded guilty to a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 409, 18 U.S.C.A. § 409, and the District Court entered a judgment sentencing him to pay a fine of $250 and to serve two years in a federal penitentiary. Acting under authority of the Probation Act1 the court then suspended execution of the sentence conditioned upon payment of the fine, and ordered petitioner's release on probation for a five year period. The fine was paid and he was released. In June, 1942, the court after a hearing revoked the probation, set aside the original sentence of two years, and imposed a new sentence of three years. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, 131 F.2d 392. Certiorari was granted because of the importance of questions raised concerning administration of the Probation Act.

The power of the District Court to increase the sentence from two to three years is challenged on two grounds: (1) Properly interpreted the Probation Act does not authorize a sentence imposed before probation, the execution of which has been suspended, to be set aside and increased upon revocation of probation; (2) If construed to grant such power, the Act to that extent violates the prohibition against double jeopardy contained in the Fifth Amendment. We do not reach this second question.

If the authority exists in federal courts to suspend or to increase a sentence fixed by a valid judgment, it must be derived from the Probation Act. The government concedes that federal courts had no such power prior to passage of that Act. See Ex parte United States, 242 U.S. 27, 37 S.Ct. 72, 61 L.Ed. 129, L.R.A.1917E, 1178, Ann.Cas.1917B, 355; United States v. Mayer, 235 U.S. 55, 35 S.Ct. 16, 59 l.Ed. 129; Ex parte Lange, 85 U.S. 163, 21 L.Ed. 872; United States v. Benz, 282 U.S. 304, 51 S.Ct. 113, 75 L.Ed. 354. In the instant case that part of the original judgment which suspended execution of the two-year sentence and released the petitioner on probation was authorized by the literal language of Section 1 of the Probation Act, U.S.C. Title 18, § 724, 18 U.S.C.A. § 724, granting the District Court power 'to suspend the * * * execution of sentence and to place the defendant upon probation * * *.' But before we can conclude that the Act authorized the District Court thereafter to increase the sentence imposed by the original judgment we must find in it a legislative grant of authority to do four things: revoke probation; revoke suspension of execution of the original sentence; set aside the original sentence; and enter a new judgment for a longer imprisonment.

We are asked by the government to find this legislative grant in Section 2 of the Act as amended, U.S.C. Title 18, § 725, 18 U.S.C.A. § 725, a part of which is set out below.2 It is clear that power to do the first two things, revoke the probation and the suspension of sentence, is expressly granted by Section 2. It is equally clear that power to do the third, set aside the original sentence, is not expressly granted. If we find this power we must resort to inference.

Except by strained construction we could not infer from the express grant of power to revoke probation or suspension of sentence the further power to set aside the original sentence. Neither probation nor suspension of execution rescinded the judgment sentencing petitioner to imprisonment;3 the one merely ordered that petitioner be released under the supervision of probation officials, the other that enforcement of his sentence be postponed. Upon their revocation, without further court action, the original sentence remained for execution as though it had never been suspended. Cf. Miller v. Aderhold, 288 U.S. 206, 211, 53 S.Ct. 325, 326, 77 L.Ed. 702.

If then the power to set aside and increase the prison term of the original sentence is to be inferred at all from Section 2, it must be drawn from the clause which empowers the court after revocation of the probation and the suspension of sentence to 'impose any sentence which might originally have been imposed.' It is undisputed in the instant case that the court could originally have imposed a three-year sentence. Therefore the existence of power to set aside the first judgment in order to increase the sentence would be a perfectly logical inference from the clause if it stood alone, because two valid sentences for the same conviction cannot coexist. But the clause cannot be read in isolation; it must be read in the context of the entire Act. And in the absence of compelling language we should not read into it an inferred grant of power which necessarily would bring it into irreconcilable conflict with other provisions of the Act.

To accept the government's interpretation of this clause would produce such a conflict. Section 1 of the Probation Act provides the procedural plan for release on probation. After judgment of guilt, the trial court is authorized 'to suspend the imposition or execution of sentence and to place the defendant upon probation * * *.' (Italics supplied.) By this language Congress conferred upon the court a choice between imposing sentence before probation is awarded or after probation is revoked. In the first instance the defendant would be sentenced in open court to imprisonment for a definite period; in the second, he would be informed in open court that the imposition of sentence was being postponed. In both instances he then would be informed of his release on probation upon conditions fixed by the court. The difference in the alternative methods is plain. Under the first, where execution of sentence is suspended, the defendant leaves the court with knowledge that a fixed sentence for a definite term of imprisonment hangs over him; under the second, he is made aware that no definite sentence has been imposed and that if his probation is revoked the court will at that time fix the term of his imprisonment. It is at once apparent that if we accept the government's interpretation this express distinction which Section 1 draws between the alternative methods of imposing sentence would be completely obliterated. In the words of the government, any sentence pronounced upon the defendant before his release on probation would be a 'dead letter.' Thus the express power to suspend execution of sentence granted by Section 1 would, by an inference drawn from Section 2, be reduced to a meaningless formality. No persuasive reasons relating to congressional or administrative policy have been suggested to us which justify construing Section 2 in this manner.

The ten year legislative history of the Probation Act strongly suggests that Congress intended to draw a sharp distinction between the power to suspend execution of a sentence and the alternative power to defer its imposition. The first probation legislation was passed by Congress in 1917 but failed to receive the President's signa- ture. As originally introduced this bill provided only for the suspension of imposition of sentence.4 After extended hearings the Senate Judiciary Committee reported it with amendments including two which were intended to grant courts power to choose between suspending imposition and suspending execution.5 But when the bill finally passed both Houses the power to suspend imposition had been eliminated and only the power to suspend execution remained.6 Between 1917 and 1925, when the present Act was passed and approved by the President, the several congressional committees interested in probation legislation considered numerous bills. Some provided only for suspension of imposition, some only for suspension of execution, and some for either method as the court saw fit.7 During this period there were advocates of those bills which provided for the suspension of imposition of sentence, but others opposed such bills. Attorney General Palmer, belonging to the latter group, expressed his opposition to a bill which provided for the suspension of imposition, pointing out that, 'The judge may also, in his discretion, terminate the probation at any time within the period specified and require the defendant to serve not a sentence which had been originally pronounced upon him, but a sentence to be pronounced at the time of the termination of the probation for the act contemplates that in granting probation a court suspends even the imposition of a sentence. * * * The conferring of such powers upon judges would not, it seems to me, contribute to the proper and uniform administration of criminal justice.'8 (Italics supplied.) In the end Congress declined to adopt one method of suspension to the exclusion of the other and instead granted the courts power to apply either method according to the circumstances of each individual case. From this compromise of the conflicting views on the proper method of suspension we may conclude that Congress indicated approval of the natural consequences of the application of each method. As understood by Attorney General Palmer one of these consequences was that when the method of suspension of execution was used the defendant could be required to serve only the sentence which had been originally pronounced upon him.

A construction of the Act to preserve the distinctive characteristics of the two methods of suspension is not inconsistent with the manner in which it has been enforced and administered. From the passage of the Act until 19409 the Attorney General exercised supervision over administration of the Act. 10 In 1930 the Attorney Gen- eral in a carefully considered opinion reached the conclusion that if Congress had intended by Section 2 of the Probation Act 'to create such an important power (as that for which the government here contends), it would seem that...

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