September 18, 2004

Must Read: Goldings v. Winn, No. 03-2633 (1st Cir. September 9, 2004)

. . . In other words, a "place of imprisonment" is a penal or correctional facility that is a place of imprisonment.
That is the government's circular definition pressed upon the First Circuit in Goldings v. Winn, No. 03-2633 (1st Cir. September 9, 2004), in a faulty attempt to exclude
community correction centers (CCCs) from the meaning of place of imprisonment and, thus, from 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b). This a very important decision for the federal criminal defense bar, and even more important for those of us practicing in the First Circuit. Just to give a glimpse of what the case is about, here is an excerpt:
The policy change that is the subject of this lawsuit was required by a December 13, 2002 Memorandum Opinion from the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, which declared unlawful the BOP's prior practice of placing federal prisoners in community confinement to serve all or part of their sentences. Goldings argues that the BOP's policy is based on an erroneous interpretation of two statutory provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. § § 3621(b) and 3624(c). According to this interpretation, these two provisions limit the BOP's discretion to place prisoners in CCCs to the lesser of the last six months or ten percent of their terms of imprisonment. Although the change in policy has generated a flood of lawsuits in the federal district courts, no court of appeals has yet spoken on the validity of the BOP's new policy. We do so here and conclude that the new policy is contrary to the plain meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b).

When Goldings entered federal custody, the BOP considered prisoners for placement in community correction centers near the end of their sentences, for up to six months, pursuant to a longstanding practice.[1] In addition, the BOP had a policy of placing in CCCs some low-risk, non-violent federal offenders who had been sentenced to short periods of imprisonment, including for periods of more than six months, particularly if the sentencing court so recommended.
[1] Goldings' complaint alleged that the BOP routinely considered "the vast majority" of inmates for placement in CCCs for periods in excess of the last ten percent of their sentences. In their memorandum filed in support of their motion to dismiss, the defendants disagreed with Goldings' characterization but acknowledged that at least some prisoners were placed in CCCs for periods in excess of ten percent of their terms of imprisonment. We accept Goldings' characterization as true, as we must in reviewing the dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Alternative Sys. Concepts, Inc. v. Synopsys, Inc., 374 F.3d 23, 29 (1st Cir. 2004).
Id. at pp. 2-3.
. . . Under § 3621(b), the BOP has discretionary authority to designate any available penal or correctional facility that meets minimum standards of health and habitability as the place of a prisoner's imprisonment, and to transfer a prisoner at any time to such a facility. A community correction center is a correctional facility and therefore may serve as a prisoner's place of imprisonment.
Id. at 24.
. . . [W]e hold that 18 U.S.C. § 3621(b) authorizes the BOP to transfer Goldings to a CCC at any time during his prison term. The BOP's discretionary authority under § 3621(b) is not subject to the temporal limitations of 18 U.S.C. § 3624(c). We vacate the order of the district court granting the defendants' motion to dismiss and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Id. at 24-25.

And this, from a comment posted on BOPWatch by Peter Goldberger, one of the attorneys representing amici National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Criminal Justice Act Board, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation:
Under the First Circuit's reasoning the BOP policy of not entertaining any front-end requests for direct designation is as invalid as its erroneous back-end limitation of CCC time to 10%. Home confinement eligibility, however, remains at 10% of the good-time adjusted sentence. As it applies to the back-end release phase, the decision is binding only for federal prisoners confined in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico. For front-end (initial designation) cases, it should be binding for sentencing judge recommendations under consideration by Community Corrections Managers and Regional Directors housed within those states (and PR), as well as arguably (but not certainly) for sentencings out of federal courts sitting in those states and PR. The opinion is so strong and thorough, however, that it is bound to be influential on judges elsewhere. Under the logic of the opinion, the BOP can probably go forward with their pending proposal to publish a regulation restricting their own exercise of discretion in this respect, but there are some legal arguments against that, in addition to the strong policy arguments.

The amici who intervened to help pro se petitioner Goldings (who is at Devens) were NACDL, FAMM, and the Massachusetts CJA Board. Volunteer counsel for that effort were Todd Bussert (New Haven), Charles Rankin (Boston), and myself (Philadelphia), with support from Mary Price at FAMM.

-Peter Goldberger, Ardmore, PA
Of these amici, the First Circuit noted the following at n. 2:
[2] The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Criminal Justice Act Board, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums Foundation participated in oral argument as amici on behalf of the pro se plaintiff. We appreciate their assistance.
We join the First Circuit in thanking amici and their attorneys.