Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jonah R. v. Carmona (9th Cir. - May 2, 2006)

Willie. Who loves you, baby? I do. As should we all.

There's no one better on the Ninth Circuit than Judge Fletcher at writing an opinion that avoids an absurd an unjust result that might seemingly be compelled by precedent. No one. He's simply a master at it, and I (and others) am and should be totally jealous of him in this regard.

Here's a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Jonah's a kid who spends 35 months in detention before he's sentenced to 30 months. For everyone else in the universe, that means you're unambiguously free: We call it "time served". You were sentenced to 30 months but you've already served 35. A no-brainer. Except that, here, the Bureau of Prisons says: "Nope. Doesn't apply to juveniles. Your 35 months wasn't 'custody' but was essentially only 'confinement' instead. You get to serve the full 30 as well. Enjoy."

A crazy result, right? Except that, when you look at the underlying statutes, this interpretation doesn't seem so crazy. Indeed, it was a district court's interpretation of these statutes that prompted the BoP to adopt this policy and to apply it to Jonah. And that also convinced the district court to rely on this prior holding and to uphold the BoP's policy.

But along comes my man, Willie Fletcher. And strikes it down. In a cogent, well-written, and (to me) entirely persuasive opinion. Jonah's 35 months was 35 months. When you're sentenced to 30 and have already done 35, you're free, regardless of your age. It's a just result that is supported by an excellent opinion. Written by a master of the form.

Well done, William.