Pepper v. United States

PETITIONER: Jason Pepper
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: US District Court, Northern District of Iowa

DOCKET NO.: 09-6822
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 562 US 476 (2011)
GRANTED: Jun 28, 2010
ARGUED: Dec 06, 2010
DECIDED: Mar 02, 2011

ADVOCATES:
Adam G. Ciongoli - for amicus curiae in support of the judgment below (appointed by the Court)
Alfredo Parrish - for the petitioner (appointed by the Court)
Roy W Mcleese Iii - on behalf of the respondent, in support of the petitioner
Roy W. McLeese, III - Acting Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent

Facts of the case

Jason Pepper pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine in an Iowa federal district court. In the latest of a long-running series of appeals and remands, a newly assigned Iowa federal district court sentenced Mr. Pepper to 77 months imprisonment and 12 months supervised release – a 20% downward departure from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines advisory range. Thereafter, the district court granted the government's motion to reduce Mr. Pepper's sentence further to 65 months imprisonment because of the assistance Mr. Pepper provided after he was initially sentenced. Mr. Pepper appealed arguing in part that the district court should consider evidence of his post-sentence rehabilitation to reduce his sentence further.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed Mr. Pepper's sentence, holding in part that evidence of a defendant's post-sentence rehabilitation was not relevant at resentencing. The court reasoned that Eighth Circuit precedent was clear that such evidence was not relevant.

Question

1) Can a federal district judge consider a defendant's post-sentencing rehabilitation as a permissible factor supporting a sentencing variance?

2) As a sentencing consideration, should post-sentencing rehabilitation be treated the same as post-offense rehabilitation

3) When a federal district judge is removed from resentencing a defendant after remand and a new judge is assigned, is the new judge obligated to follow sentencing findings issued by the original judge?

Media for Pepper v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 2010 in Pepper v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 02, 2011 in Pepper v. United States

Sonia Sotomayor:

In October 2003, petitioner Jason Pepper plead -- pled guilty to federal drug charges.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit set aside his initial sentence in light of our decision in U.S v. Booker, which invalidated certain statutory provisions that made the Federal Sentencing Guidelines mandatory.

On remand, the District Court held the resentencing hearing.

Pepper testified that while he had previously been a drug addict, he had successfully completed a drug treatment program while in prison and no longer used any drugs.

He also testified that he was enrolled in community college and had earned A's in all of his classes the prior semester, and was also working part-time.

Pepper's father testified that he had previously been strangled from his son, but the two had since reestablished their relationship.

Pepper's probation officer also testified on the positive steps Pepper had taken in becoming a law abiding citizen and has demonstrated little recidivism raise -- risk.

In light of this testimony, the District Court sentenced Pepper to 24 months.

The Court of Appeals again set aside the sentence ruling that Pepper's postsentencing rehabilitation could not be considered at resentencing and directed that the case be assigned to a difs -- different district judge.

At the second resentencing hearing, Pepper informed the new district judge that he was still in school and was now working at Sam's Club where he was recently selected "an associate of the year" and was about to be promoted.

He also testified that he had married and was supporting his new family.

The District Court however, refused to consider this evidence and sentenced Pepper to 65 months of imprisonment which was upheld by the Court of Appeals.

We grant this certiorari and now vacate that portion of the judgment below.

The Court has longed recognized that highly relevant, if not essential, to the selection of an appropriate sentence is the possession of the fullest information possible concerning the defendant's life and characteristics.

Will -- this proposition is supported by Williams v. New York.

Congress codified this principle at 18 U.S.C. Section 3661, which provides that "no limitation shall be placed on the information", a sentencing judge can consider concerning the defendant's background, character, and conduct.

And at Section 3553, which sets forth certain factors that certain sentencing courts must consider, including "the history and characteristic of the defendant."

We hold that a District Court at resentencing may consider evidence of the defendant's postsentencing rehabilitation, and that such evidence may in appropriate cases, support a downward variance from the guidelines' range.

The Eight Circuit's decision to the contrary conflicts with longstanding principles of federal sentencing law and Congress' express directives in Sections 3661, and 3553(a).

Although a separate statutory provision, Section 3742(g)(2) would effectively preclude the consideration of postsentencing rehabilitation.

That provision did not survive our holding in Booker and we expressly invalidate it today.

Separately, we affirm the Court of Appeals' ruling that the law of the case doctrine did not require the District Court in this case to apply the same percentage departure from the Guidelines range for substantial assistance that had been applied at Pepper's prior sentencing.

The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit is vacated in part and affirmed in part.

And the case is remanded for resentencing consistent with this opinion.

Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Justice Alito has filed an opinion concurring a part -- in part, concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.

Justice Thomas has filed this dissenting opinion.

Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.