United States v. Granderson, 511 U.S. 39 (1994)

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

No. 92-1662. Argued January 10, 1994—Decided March 22, 1994

Respondent Granderson, a letter carrier, pleaded guilty to one count of destruction of mail. The potential imprisonment range for that crime was 0-6 months under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. The District Court imposed no prison time, sentencing Granderson instead to five years' probation and a fine. After Granderson tested positive for cocaine, the court resentenced him under 18 U. S. C. 3565(a), which provides that if a person serving a sentence of probation possesses illegal drugs, "the court shall revoke the sentence of probation and sentence the defendant to not less than one-third of the original sentence." Accepting the Government's reading of the statute, the District Court concluded that the phrase "original sentence" referred to the term of probation actually imposed (60 months), rather than the 0-6 month imprisonment range authorized by the Guidelines. Accordingly, that court resentenced Granderson to 20 months' imprisonment. The Court of Appeals upheld the revocation of Granderson's probation, but vacated his new sentence. Invoking the rule of lenity, the court agreed with Granderson that "original sentence" referred to the potential imprisonment range under the Guidelines, not to the actual probation sentence. Because Granderson had already served 11 months of his revocation sentence—more than the 6-months maximum under the Guidelines—the court ordered him released from custody.

Held: The minimum revocation sentence under 3565(a)'s drug-possession proviso is one-third the maximum of the originally applicable Guidelines range of imprisonment, and the maximum revocation sentence is the Guidelines maximum. Pp. 44-57. (a) The Government is correct that the proviso mandates imprisonment, not renewed probation, as the required type of punishment. The contrast in 3565(a)(1) and (2) between "continu[ing]" and "revok[ing]" probation as the alternative punishments for a defendant who violates a probation condition suggests that a revocation sentence must be a sentence of imprisonment, not a continuation of probation. Moreover, it would be absurd to punish drug-possessing probationers by revoking their probation and imposing a new term of probation no longer than the original. However, the Government contends incorrectly that the term "original sentence" unambiguously calls for a sentence based on


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