Lopez v. Davis, 531 U.S. 230 (2001)

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

No. 99-7504. Argued October 30, 2000—Decided January 10, 2001

Under 18 U. S. C. 3621(e)(2)(B), "[t]he period a [federal] prisoner convicted of a nonviolent offense remains in custody after successfully completing a [substance abuse] treatment program may be reduced by the Bureau of Prisons" (BOP). The BOP therefore ranked ineligible for early release all inmates incarcerated for "crime[s] of violence." Initially, the BOP defined the term "crimes of violence" to include, among other offenses, a drug trafficking conviction under 21 U. S. C. 841, if the offender received a two-level sentence enhancement under United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual (USSG) 2D1.1(b)(1), for possessing a dangerous weapon in connection with the drug offense. The Courts of Appeals thereafter divided over the validity of classifying drug offenses involving firearms possession as crimes of violence. The Circuit division prompted the BOP to issue the regulation now before the Court. That regulation denies early release to several categories of prisoners, including inmates whose current offense is a felony attended by "the carrying, possession, or use of a firearm." 28 CFR 550.58(a)(1)(vi)(B). The BOP rests this denial not on a definition of "crimes of violence," but on the BOP's asserted discretion to prescribe additional early release criteria.

Petitioner Lopez was convicted of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine in violation of 21 U. S. C. 841. Finding that Lopez possessed a firearm in connection with his offense, the District Court enhanced his sentence by two levels pursuant to USSG 2D1.1(b)(1). While incarcerated, Lopez requested substance abuse treatment. The BOP found him qualified for its treatment program, but categorically ineligible, under 28 CFR 550.58(a)(1)(vi), for early release. Ordering the BOP to reconsider Lopez's eligibility for early release, the District Court held that the BOP may not categorically count out, based upon sentencing factors or weapon possession, inmates whose underlying conviction was for a nonviolent crime. The Eighth Circuit reversed. It reasoned that 3621(e)(2)(B)'s "may . . . reduc[e]" formulation allows the BOP discretion to devise a regime based on criteria that can be uniformly applied. To the extent Congress left a gap in 3621(e)(2)(B) for the BOP to fill, the Court of Appeals stated, deference is owed the BOP's interpretation under Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources

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