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United States v. Schonewolf

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

October 4, 2018


          Argued April 19, 2018

          On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (District Court No.: 2-13-cr-00037-001) District Judge: Honorable John R. Padova

          Leigh M. Skipper Assistant Federal Defender Brett G. Sweitzer Assistant Federal Defender Chief of Appeals Robert Epstein Assistant Federal Defender Jacob Schuman Research and Writing Attorney Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Counsel for Appellant

          William M. McSwain United States Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer Assistant United States Attorney Chief of Appeals Sarah L. Grieb Assistant United States Attorney Counsel for Appellee

          Before: GREENAWAY, JR., RENDELL, and FUENTES, Circuit Judges



         We are asked to determine whether referencing a criminal defendant's need for drug rehabilitation is appropriate when imposing a prison sentence following the revocation of supervised release. Appellant is Janet Sonja Schonewolf, a repeat offender struggling with heroin dependency. Following her most recent arrest, the District Court revoked Schonewolf's supervised release and sentenced her to 40 months' imprisonment, an upward variance over the Sentencing Guidelines range. Schonewolf claims that the District Court imposed this sentence based on her need for drug rehabilitation, in violation of the Sentencing Reform Act (the "Act")[1] and the Supreme Court's ruling in Tapia v. United States.[2] We disagree, and hold that her sentence did not violate the Act and Tapia. We will therefore affirm.

         I. Factual Background

         The facts of this case have become far too common. Schonewolf has spent much of her life in the throes of addiction. Both of her parents were addicts, foreshadowing her own life. Her father was a methamphetamine user who encouraged her to sell diet pills in school on his behalf. Her mother was a food addict who weighed over 500 pounds at the time of her death. At age 14 Schonewolf began smoking marijuana, and by age 15 she left her home and dropped out of high school. Shortly thereafter, Schonewolf developed a drinking problem and attempted suicide several times before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Schonewolf also admits having used crack cocaine and methamphetamines when she was younger.

         Schonewolf's use of opiates began with the use of prescription painkillers. Specifically, she was prescribed Percocet for pain stemming from back injuries sustained in a car accident, followed by a fentanyl patch. Schonewolf became addicted to opiates and, following her doctor's retirement, began using heroin to satisfy her addiction.

         A. Schonewolf's Prior Offense

         Predictably, all of this led to trouble with the law. In 2010, Schonewolf was pulled over in Utah and admitted to having approximately twelve pounds of methamphetamine in the trunk of her car. Evidently, her father had given her $88, 000 and requested she buy drugs in Nevada and bring them to him in Pennsylvania. Ultimately, Schonewolf pled guilty to one count of possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. The District Court granted a downward variance from the Sentencing Guidelines and sentenced Schonewolf to time served, followed by 60 months' supervised release.

         B. Schonewolf's Instant Offense

         After several years of progress on supervised release, Schonewolf suffered a relapse.[3] She began using heroin again and was caught attempting to purchase the drug. This resulted in two Pennsylvania misdemeanor charges. Additionally, these charges violated the terms of Schonewolf's supervised release.

         Schonewolf's probation officer filed a Violation of Supervised Release petition in the District Court. One month later, however, the officer withdrew the petition, noting that Schonewolf was involved in a detox program. Unfortunately, Schonewolf suffered an overdose and left treatment. As a result, her probation officer refiled the petition and the District Court convened a revocation hearing. At that hearing, the Government indicated that Schonewolf was again in treatment and making progress, so the District Court adjourned for a month. When the District Court reconvened, it sentenced Schonewolf to one day in prison, followed by her pre-existing term of supervised release.

         In October 2016, Schonewolf was found to be selling heroin out of her house. She admitted to have been doing so for six to seven months. Schonewolf pled guilty to several drug charges and was sentenced to two to four years' imprisonment by the state court. She is currently serving that sentence. Based on this conduct, Schonewolf's probation officer also filed a new Violation of Supervised Release.

         II. Procedural History

         The District Court convened a revocation hearing under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3) regarding Schonewolf's violation of a term of supervised release on August 15, 2017.[4] The Guidelines range for Schonewolf's sentence was 24 to 30 months' imprisonment. The Government advocated for an upward variance to 48 months, justifying this request by the fact that Schonewolf had previously benefitted from a lesser sentence because she had promised to stop using drugs. The Government also relied on the Guidelines, pointing out that under Guideline § 7B1.4, application note 4, the Court was empowered to depart upward because Schonewolf had received a downward departure in 2012. Schonewolf requested a 24-month sentence, based on, among other factors: (1) her long history of struggles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse; (2) the fact that her sales were solely to finance her own habit and did not involve violence; and (3) her existing two to four year state sentence, which she asserted would give her time to complete drug treatment.

         The District Court ultimately sentenced Schonewolf to 40 months' imprisonment to run consecutively to her state sentence. This was 10 months above the top of the Guidelines range. To justify this sentence, the District Court said:

"I mean, we-you were granted a significant downward departure [at] sentencing. You were granted a significant mercy at the time of your first violation and nonetheless, I mean, your behavior has just grown more and more severe, worse.
And I-you know, I have reached a conclusion that you are a significant danger to yourself, you're a significant danger to those who have lived with you, and you're a significant danger to society. And the last step we have in order to give you a fighting chance to recover from whatever addictions you have is to-is to limit your contact with the outside world for a significant period of time.
As I said we had had great hope for you. I am thoroughly convinced that [the] United States has done-has gone way out in order to do what it could to help you for a significant period of time, but that hasn't worked. Now, I have decided to grant an upward variance. And the basis for the upward variance is Section 7B 1.4. And we take special note of Application Note number 4 which points out essentially what the government has pointed out as a basis for an upward variance from the range here."[5]

         Schonewolf now appeals her sentence.[6]

         III. Standard of Review

         On appeal, Schonewolf argues that the District Court violated the Act by sentencing her to a term of imprisonment to promote her rehabilitation. She did not raise this argument as an objection at her sentencing, and thus it is not preserved for appeal.[7] We review unpreserved claims for plain error.[8] To be entitled to relief under a plain error standard, "a defendant must show: (1) error, (2) that is plain or obvious, and (3) that affects a defendant's substantial rights."[9] When those three prongs are met, this Court may exercise its discretion to grant relief, but only if "the error seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings."[10]

         IV. Schonewolf's Sentencing Reform Act Claim

         In 1984, Congress passed the Act as part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act.[11] In the Act, Congress admonishes courts to, in considering the length of a prison sentence, "consider the factors set forth in [18 U.S.C.] section 3553(a) to the extent that they are applicable, recognizing that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation."[12] The Supreme Court interpreted this section of the Act in Tapia v. United States, and concluded that "§ 3582(a) tells courts that they should acknowledge that imprisonment is not suitable for the purpose of promoting rehabilitation."[13] The Court thus held that "the Sentencing Reform Act precludes federal courts from imposing or lengthening a prison term in order to promote a criminal defendant's rehabilitation."[14]

         Prior to Tapia, this Court decided United States v. Doe, where we held that it did not violate the Act to "set[] the duration of [a defendant's] post-revocation incarceration based, in part, on his need for drug rehabilitation."[15] In so doing, we explained that "the plain language and operation of the statute governing post-revocation sentencing, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3583(e) and (g), permits a district court to consider medical and rehabilitative needs in imposing a term of post-revocation imprisonment[.]"[16]

         Thus, there appears to be a facial distinction between Tapia, decided in the context of a post-conviction sentence, and this case, where Schonewolf's sentence was imposed post-violation, the same procedural posture present in Doe. This presents the question of whether Tapia effectively overruled Doe and applies even in cases where a sentence is imposed post-violation under § 3583.[17]

         A. Interplay of Tapia and Doe

         Even before Tapia, this Circuit did not permit post-conviction sentences to be tailored to rehabilitation. In United States v. Manzella, we held that "[i]t is the policy of the United States Congress, clearly expressed in law, that defendants not be sent to prison or held there for a specific length of time for the sole purpose of rehabilitation."[18] Our review of the record convinced us that "the circumstances of the sentencing hearing clearly indicate that the District Court sentenced [defendant] to a prison term of 30 months for rehabilitative purposes" because the sentence was designed to give sufficient time for the defendant to complete the Bureau of Prison's 500-hour drug treatment program.[19] Thus, we concluded that the District Court erred in violating § 3582(a).[20]

         After Manzella, we decided Doe. As mentioned, Doe held that it did not violate the Act to set a post-revocation sentence based, in part, on a defendant's need for rehabilitation.[21] We reconciled this with the rule in Manzella by noting "certain pivotal distinctions between the statutes governing post-conviction sentencing and those governing post-revocation sentencing."[22] Specifically, post-conviction imprisonment is limited by both §§ 3553(a)(2)(D) and 3582(a).[23] The former provides that the District Court should consider "the need . . . to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner."[24] The latter adds the requirement that a sentence to a term of imprisonment must be crafted "recognizing that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation."[25] Read together, post-conviction sentences must be crafted to consider a need for medical care and correctional treatment, while recognizing that rehabilitation is not a justification for a prison sentence.[26] By contrast, we said that post-revocation sentences under § 3583 (e) and (g) were not subject to § 3582(a).[27] Absent this requirement, we held that a District Court may consider rehabilitation in crafting a post-revocation prison sentence.[28]

         Then came Tapia. In Tapia, the Supreme Court firmly held that "[s]ection 3582(a) precludes sentencing courts from imposing or lengthening a prison term to promote an offender's rehabilitation."[29] The Court articulated multiple reasons for this. It first noted the plain text of § 3582(a) provides "clarity" as to the operative rule.[30] "Under standard rules of grammar, § 3582(a) says: A sentencing judge shall recognize that imprisonment is not appropriate to promote rehabilitation . . . when determining both whether to imprison an offender and what length of term to give him."[31] Second, the Court found the "statutory silence" as to any provisions giving courts the authority to ensure defendants do participate in rehabilitative programs "[e]qually illuminating."[32] This is because, where Congress intended rehabilitation to be an aim of the sentence- i.e. probation or supervised release-it gave courts the authority to order a defendant's participation in rehabilitative programs.[33] When it comes to prison sentences, however, "courts do not have this authority."[34] This "indicates that Congress did not intend that courts consider offenders' rehabilitative needs when imposing prison sentences."[35]

         Finally, legislative history confirms Congress' intent that rehabilitation not be considered in sentencing a defendant to prison.[36] The Senate Report regarding the Act noted that "almost everyone involved in the criminal justice system now doubts that rehabilitation can be induced reliably in a prison setting."[37] It is for this reason, the Report states, that 18 U.S.C. § 3582(a) "specifies, in light of current knowledge, that the judge should recognize . . . that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation."[38]

         This brings us to the issue at hand, whether Tapia has any import here, where Schonewolf was sentenced to a term of incarceration following the revocation of her supervised release. We now join our sister circuits in holding that Tapia applies to post-revocation prison sentences.[39] In doing so, we recognize that Tapia effectively overruled our decision in Doe.[40] Put succinctly, post-revocation sentences under § 3583 (e) and (g) are subject to the requirements of § 3582(a) of the Act. Our rationale for this is simple: the reasons the Court gave for its holding in Tapia apply with equal force to post-revocation prison sentences.

         First, the plain text of § 3582(a) indicates that it should also apply to post-revocation prison sentences. The statute refers only to the sentence of "imprisonment," not the procedural posture by which such a sentence is imposed.[41]Intuitively this makes sense. If a sentence of incarceration in prison is "not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation," why should it matter whether a defendant finds herself there immediately following her conviction or after the revocation of a term of supervised release?[4 ...

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