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Eleventh Circuit Announces Defendant May Not Be Sentenced to Home Confinement for Violating Terms of Supervised Release When Sentenced to Statutory Maximum Period of Imprisonment for the Violation

by Douglas Ankney

In a case of first impression, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the revised sentences of defendants who violate the terms of their supervised release cannot include the maximum term of imprisonment and a period of home confinement because “home confinement with electronic monitoring” may only be imposed “as an alternative to incarceration” under the governing statutes, viz., 18 U.S.C. §§ 3563(b)(19), 3583(e)(4).

In September 2020, Rondell Hall began serving a term of three-years of supervised release after serving about 57 months in prison, stemming from a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In 2021, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama found by a preponderance of the evidence that Hall had violated the conditions of his supervised release. The District Court imposed the maximum term of imprisonment permitted for Hall’s violation (two years) to be followed by a one-year term of home confinement. The District Court was quite clear that home confinement meant Hall “must submit to location monitoring and be ‘restricted to [his] residence at all times,’ except for preapproved activities, like employment, church, or court appearances.” The District Court overruled Hall’s objection to the home confinement, and Hall timely appealed.

The Court observed a “district court may impose a sentence only if a statute authorizes that sentence.” 18 U.S.C. § 3551. The sentence cannot exceed the maximum term authorized by statute. §§ 3581, 3583. “Supervised release” is “a form of post confinement monitoring” provided “to facilitate a transition to community life.” Mont v. United States, 139 S. Ct. 1826 (2019). “When a district court sentences a defendant to a term of imprisonment, it may include ‘as a part of the sentence a requirement that the defendant be placed on a term of supervised release after imprisonment.’”18 U.S.C. § 3583(a). The conditions of supervised release include both those that must be imposed by the court (e.g., defendant not commit another crime) and those that are imposed at the court’s discretion (18 U.S.C. § 3563(b) lists 20 potential discretionary conditions such as “refraining from excessive use of alcohol”).

Upon a defendant’s violation of a condition of his supervised release, a “district court may revoke the supervised release and impose a revised sentence.” § 3583(e)(3). “The revised sentence may include imprisonment for a term ‘authorized by statute for the offense that resulted in such term of supervised release,’ i.e., the original offense.” Id. For a defendant like Hall who was originally convicted of a Class C felony, the revised term of imprisonment for a violation of supervised-release conditions could not exceed two years, according to the Court. Id.

A new term of supervised release may be imposed after the revised term of imprisonment. § 3583(h). However, the Court explained that the new term of supervised release cannot exceed the original maximum term (for Hall it was three years) minus the time the defendant was sentenced to prison upon revocation. §§ 3583(b)(3), (h). Consequently, a defendant like Hall, who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for violating the conditions of his supervised release, can be sentenced to no more than one year of supervised release to follow.

Home confinement may be imposed as a discretionary condition of supervised release, § 3563(b)(19), and home confinement may also be imposed as a punishment for a violation of the conditions of supervised release. § 3583(e)(4). Home confinement requires a defendant to “remain at his place of residence during nonworking hours and, if the court so directs, to have compliance monitored by telephone or electronic signaling devices.” Id. However, the Court noted that home confinement “may be imposed only as an alternative to incarceration.” §§ 3563(b)(19), 3583(e)(4).

The Court determined that resolution of Hall’s issue required interpretation of the phrase “may be imposed only as an alternative to incarceration.” Because the statute does not define the phrase, the Court explained that it must look “to the common usage of words for their meaning” and may turn to “dictionary definitions for guidance.” CBS Inc. v. PrimeTime 24 Joint Venture, 245 F.3d 1217 (11th Cir. 2001). “Alternative” means “providing or being a choice between two or among more than two things.” Webster’s New World Dictionary (3d ed. 1988). The Court concluded that an alternative “is a choice between at least two things.”

With that definition in mind, the Court reasoned the phrase has two possible meanings: (1) the phrase could “preclude a district court from ordering home confinement and incarceration in the same sentence, i.e., the selection of one entirely precludes the other” or (2) the phrase “could mean that a district court may impose home confinement only if it could have imposed incarceration, i.e., that choosing one is an ‘alternative’ to choosing the other.” The Court quickly dispatched with the first possible meaning because “the statute expressly allows courts to combine incarceration and supervised release in the same sentence … and expressly allows home confinement as a condition of supervised release.” See § 3583(h); see also § 3563(b)(19).

The Court chose the second meaning as the correct interpretation. It explained that District Courts may impose home confinement “as an alternative” to incarceration when they have the authority to impose a term of imprisonment but opt instead to impose home confinement. Conversely, when District Courts don’t have the authority to impose imprisonment, they similarly lack the authority to impose home confinement because it would not be “as an alternative to incarceration.”

Based on the Court’s determination, Hall’s one-year period of home confinement was invalid because the District Court had already imposed the maximum two-year term of incarceration, i.e., the District Court could not have imposed another year of incarceration and then choose home confinement as an alternative. Thus, the Court held that the District Court “erred by imposing a term of home confinement when it could not have imposed the same term of imprisonment.”

Accordingly, the Court vacated Hall’s revised sentence containing the home confinement condition and remanded for resentencing. See: United States v. Hall, 64 F.4th 1200 (11th Cir. 2023).


Editor’s note: The Fifth Circuit reached the same conclusion in United States v. Ferguson, 369 F.3d 847 (5th Cir. 2004).  

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