(CN) – A man who claims that his criminal sentence was lengthened to get him off drugs can take his case to the Supreme Court, the justices said Monday.
Armarcion Henderson was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm, but the sentencing guideline range could have had him out a year or two earlier.
The sentencing judge explained that the upward departure would ensure Henderson’s enrollment in the federal Bureau of Prisons drug treatment program.
Henderson did not object at the hearing but filed a motion to correct the sentence eight days later. He claimed that the lengthened sentence violated federal law, but a federal judge for the Western District of Louisiana disagreed.
In July 2011, the 5th Circuit pointed out that the sentencing decision was an error under Tapia v. United States.
It concluded nevertheless that the sentence should still stand because “Henderson did not preserve the error” and “cannot show that the District Court plainly erred.”
“Tapia established that it is error for a court to ‘impose or lengthen a prison sentence to enable an offender to complete a treatment program or otherwise to promote rehabilitation,'” a three-judge panel of the court found. “Henderson cannot show that the error in his case was plain, however, because an error is plain only if it ‘was clear under current law at the time of trial.’ At the time of trial, the Supreme Court had not yet decided Tapia and, as we have just explained, we had not yet addressed the question. Where we have not previously addressed a question, any error cannot be plain.” (Emphasis in original.)
Henderson will proceed in forma pauperis before the Supreme Court.