United States v. R. L. C., 503 U.S. 291 (1992)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit

No. 90-1577. Argued December 10, 1991—Decided March 24, 1992

Because certain conduct of respondent R. L. C. at age 16 would have constituted the crime of involuntary manslaughter under 18 U. S. C. 1112(a) and 1153 if committed by an adult, the District Court held that he had committed an act of juvenile delinquency within the meaning of the Juvenile Delinquency Act. In light of a provision of that Act requiring the length of official detention in certain circumstances to be limited to "the maximum term of imprisonment that would be authorized if the juvenile had been tried and convicted as an adult," 5037(c)(1)(B), the court committed R. L. C. to detention for three years, the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter under 1112(b). Reading 5037(c)(1)(B) to bar a juvenile term longer than the sentence a court could impose on a similarly situated adult after applying the United States Sentencing Guidelines, and finding that the Guidelines would yield a maximum sentence of 21 months for an adult in R. L. C.'s circumstances, the Court of Appeals vacated his sentence and remanded for resentencing.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. 915 F. 2d 320, affirmed.

Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, concluding: 1. Plain-meaning analysis does not compel adoption of the Government's construction that the word "authorized" in 5037(c)(1)(B) must refer to the maximum term of imprisonment provided for by the statute defining the offense. At least equally consistent, and arguably more natural, is the construction that "authorized" refers to the result of applying all statutes with a required bearing on the sentencing decision, including not only those that empower the court to sentence but those that limit the legitimacy of its exercise of that power, including 3553(b), which requires application of the Guidelines and caps an adult sentence at the top of the relevant Guideline range, absent circumstances warranting departure. Thus, the most that can be said from examining the text in its present form is that the Government may claim its preferred construction to be one possible resolution of statutory ambiguity. Pp. 297-298.


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