Pretrial Detention Puts Supervision on Hold, Justices Rule

WASHINGTON (CN) — Party lines went out the window Monday as the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against an Ohio drug dealer who said pretrial detention should count as time he was supposed to spend on supervised release for older charges.

Jason Mont began his five-year term of supervised release in 2012 following an initial plea of guilty to cocaine and firearm charges. Three years in, however, Mont tested positive for drugs at least six times during checks with his probation officer and he was charged by the state with marijuana trafficking.

Mont’s bond was finally revoked after he was arrested again in June 2016 on new cocaine charges.

Following his sentence to six years imprisonment on those charges in March 2017, Mont argued that he should not have to appear for a hearing that July on supervised release because he said that term should have expired on March 6. 

The Supreme Court intervened last year to resolve whether Mont’s pretrial detention on the new charges put his supervised release on hold. In ruling against Mont this morning, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined a conservative majority of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.

The conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch meanwhile joined a dissent by Justice Sonya Sotomayor, as did Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Running one page longer than the lead opinion authored by Thomas, Sotomayor warned in the dissent that today’s decision creates a serious risk of unfairness.

Sotomayor said pretrial detainees will not understand that they are bound by the terms of their supervised release, compelling them to comply with previous probation terms without knowledge of whether doing so will result in the time being credited to their new conviction. 

Failure to do so could risk being charged with a violation if their supervised release term, she added.

“Although the majority indicates that offenders generally will comply with the terms of their release simply by following prison rules, the range of supervised release conditions is too broad to guarantee complete overlap with prison directives,” the dissent states.

But Thomas made the case that a detainee’s understanding of supervision standards should not “meaningfully influence” their behavior.

With the perspective that supervised release is a period of returning to society, Thomas said a defendant in custody is likely unable to violate ordinary conditions of parole — such as no new offenses or drug use — if he is in detention for a new criminal offense and similarly would find it challenging to meet other requirements.

Mont’s supervised-release conditions required regular lawful occupational work and meeting the needs of his family, Thomas pointed out. 

“Mont could not fulfill these conditions while sitting in an Ohio jail, and his probation officer correctly deemed him ‘unavailable for supervision,’” the opinion states.

Mont’s federal public defender Vanessa Malone had little to say about the ruling this morning, emphasizing that she still must confer with her client, Mont, who remains incarcerated in Ohio.

She did note that, based on the argument, she was not surprised that Ginsburg joined in the majority opinion with the more conservative justices on the bench. 

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

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