Johnson v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

DOCKET NO.: 99-5153
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 529 US 694 (2000)
ARGUED: Feb 22, 2000
DECIDED: May 15, 2000

Paul R. Q. Wolfson - Department of Justice, argued the cause for respondent
Rita La Lumia - Chattanooga, Tennessee, argued the cause for petitioner

Facts of the case

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 replaced most forms of parole with supervised release. If release conditions are violated, the sentencing court may revoke the release and order the violator to serve part or all of the release term in prison without credit for time previously served on release. In 1994, Cornell Johnson was convicted of conspiring to produce and use counterfeit credit cards. Johnson was sentenced to imprisonment followed by a term of supervised release. While on supervised release, Johnson violated its terms. Subsequently, the District Court revoked Johnson's release and ordered him to serve an 18-month prison term to be followed by an additional 12 months of supervised release. The court cited no authority for ordering the new supervised release. The court could have cited a subsection added to the Act in 1994, 18 USC section 3583(h), which explicitly gave it the authority to add the new term; however, Congress made the amendment after Johnson's conviction. On appeal, Johnson argued that the application of the federal law established after his conviction violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision.


May a district court, under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, impose an additional term of supervised release following the reimprisonment of those who violate the conditions of an initial term of supervised release, without violating the Ex Post Facto Clause?

Media for Johnson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 22, 2000 in Johnson v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 15, 2000 in Johnson v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 99-5153, Johnson against the United States will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The petitioner Cornell Johnson was sentenced to two years of imprisonment for a credit card crime.

His sentence also required him to serve after imprisonment three years of supervised release.

The order for supervised release bore certain conditions and seven months into it he violated.

The District Court, after finding a violation, revoked the term of supervised release and order Johnson re-imprisoned.

It also ordered that following the further prison term, he serve a further year of supervised release.

Johnson challenged the reimposition of supervised release.

The Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s order, and in an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm.

An amendment to the law have passed after Johnson’s initial offense, explicitly authorized its re-imposition of supervised release and the Court of Appeals seems to have relied on the amended statute in affirming the District Court.

We, however, need not consider questions raised by application of the statute passed after Johnson’s initial offense, for we find that Congress did not intend the amended statute to apply retroactively.

The only question then is whether the law in effect to the time of Johnson’s initial offense allowed “to reimpose supervised release” and we hold that it did.

At the time of the initial offense, the law provided that upon violation of the conditions of supervised release a District Court could “revoke a term of supervised release and require the person to serve imprison all or part of the term of supervised release”.

As all is it may seem it first we think that the use of the word revoke suggest that the term is not simply extinguished by the revocation.

In another Section of the same statute, Congress used the more definitively final word terminate to indicate extinguishment and to say that the defendant can be require to serve imprison all or part of the term of supervised release again suggested the term may continue in a way that would allow to be reimposed after imprisonment is over.

This reading of the statute is also consistent with practice under the parole system, the antecedent of supervised release, violation of the conditions of parole would lead to revocation of parole on a new prison term and that prison term could be followed by a new parole.

While these text rules and historical clues do not necessarily require our reading of the statute, we place great weight on the fact that allowing District Courts to reimpose supervised released following reimprisonment fulfills the evident congressional purpose.

The aim of supervised releases is to assist prisoners in adjusting from prison life to liberty; prisoners who have failed once in the transition can use more help the most and we think Congress did not intend to prohibit courts from giving aid to those who are neediest.

Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion in concurring in part; Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; and Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion.