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Fifth Circuit Announces Revocation Judgments for Violation of Supervised Release Vacated Because Underlying Sentence Vacated

by Anthony W. Accurso

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a defendant’s revocation sentences were nullified after the underlying sentence of which they were a part was vacated.

Eddie Lipscomb was convicted in 2008 of being a felon in possession of a firearm under 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e)(1). The court classified him as a career offender under U.S.S.G. § 4B1.1 because he had multiple priors, including a robbery in Texas. This netted him a sentence of 20 years in prison with five years of supervised release.

Afterwards, the U.S. Supreme Court issued Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. 591 (2015) (the Court held that the definition of “violent felony” in the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act is unconstitutionally vague and thus enjoined enforcement of the residual clause). In 2016, Lipscomb filed a § 2255 motion claiming his robbery was not a “violent felony” under Johnson. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted his writ, resentencing him to 10 years of imprisonment and three years of supervised release. He was released within months of his resentencing and began his term of supervision. Meanwhile, the Government pursued an appeal of the District Court’s order.

While on supervision, Lipscomb violated his terms of supervision multiple times, so he was sentenced to an additional three years in prison.

Then, the Government prevailed on appeal. The Fifth Circuit declared Texas robbery a violent felony, making his shorter sentence invalid. His resentencing order was vacated, and the Fifth Circuit remanded with an order to reinstate his original sentence of 20 years in prison.

After Lipscomb was resentenced and reincarnated, he timely appealed his revocation orders. He did so because, though his 10-year sentence had been vacated, the revocation orders had not. And while the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) was applying the time he served for his revocations to his current 20-year sentence, there was nothing preventing the BOP from altering its position.

The Court observed that the case involves a complex procedural history and multiple issues on appeal, but they can be reduced to asking it to “clarify the legal status of the revocation judgements.” The Court provided a straightforward answer to the issue presented: “the revocation judgments should be vacated because his underlying sentence was vacated,” reasoning that the “revocation judgments flow from—and indeed are part of—his underlying sentence, vacatur of the latter entails vacatur of the former.”

Interestingly, the Court acknowledged that there is no “express guidance from any binding authority” on this issue, so it reached its conclusion “by considering both the statutory framework around [supervised release] and caselaw parsing revocation judgments.”

First, the Court analyzed the statutory context. It explained that the term of supervised release is not a separate sentence from the term of imprisonment; it is “a part of the sentence” to the term of imprisonment. 18 U.S.C. § 3583(a). After discussing the details of supervised release, the Court stated that revocation judgments modify the terms of supervised release, which constitute a part of the underlying sentence.

Next, the Court discussed precedent, which also views “post-revocation penalties as part of the underlying sentence.” The Supreme Court clearly explained this relationship in Johnson v. United States, 529 U.S. 694 (2000) (rejecting the argument that revocation judgment “imposes punishment for defendants’ new offenses for violating the conditions of their supervised release”). Johnson requires courts to treat post-revocation “sanctions as part of the penalty for the initial offense,” the Court stated. Furthermore, the Court noted that the Supreme Court reaffirmed Johnson’s reasoning in United States v. Haymond, 139 S. Ct. 2369 (2019).

Thus, the Court held that both the statutory framework and governing precedent require vacatur of the revocation judgments, reasoning: “Lipscomb’s revocation judgments were part of his ten-year sentence. That sentence was vacated. The revocation judgments are therefore legally void and should be vacated as well.”

Accordingly, the Court vacated the revocation judgments without remand, ensuring Lipscomb’s time served on revocation would be applied to his current sentence, and rendered judgment accordingly. See: United States v. Lipscomb, 66 F.4th 604 (5th Cir. 2023).  

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Related legal case

United States v. Lipscomb

 

 

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