Ralston v. Robinson,
454 U.S. 201 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Ralston v. Robinson, 454 U.S. 201 (1981)

Ralston v. Robinson

No. 80 2049

Argued October 5, 1981

Decided December 2, 1981

454 U.S. 201


Respondent, when 17 years old, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment under the Federal Youth Corrections Act (YCA), 18 U.S.C. § 5010(c). Subsequently, while incarcerated, he was found guilty of assaulting a federal officer, and the District Court imposed an adult sentence to be served consecutively to the YCA sentence, finding that respondent would not benefit from any further treatment under the YCA. Later, while still incarcerated, respondent pleaded guilty to another charge of assaulting a federal officer, and the District Court sentenced him to a further adult sentence to be served consecutively to the sentence he was then serving. The Bureau of Prisons then classified respondent as an adult offender, and accordingly, since that time, he has not been segregated from adult prisoners and has not been offered the YCA rehabilitative treatment that the initial trial court recommended. After exhausting his administrative remedies, respondent filed a petition for habeas corpus. The District Court granted the writ, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the YCA forbids the reevaluation of a YCA sentence by a second judge, even if the second judge makes a finding that further YCA treatment would not benefit the offender.

Held: The YCA does not require YCA treatment for the remainder of a youth sentence where the judge imposing the subsequent adult sentence determines, as here, that such treatment will not benefit the offender further. Pp. 454 U. S. 206-220.

(a) The YCA strongly endorses a judge's discretionary power to choose among available sentencing options, and prescribes certain basic conditions of treatment for YCA offenders. By determining that the youth offender should be sentenced under the YCA, the trial court, in effect, decides that the Bureau of Prisons must comply with both the segregation and treatment requirements of the statute. Correctional authorities may not exercise any of the sentencing powers established in the YCA. Pp. 454 U. S. 206-210.

(b) The language of § 6010(c) authorizing a court to "sentence the youth offender to the custody of the Attorney General for treatment and supervision" pursuant to the YCA, and of § 6011 providing that "[c]ommitted

Page 454 U. S. 202

youth offenders . . . shall undergo treatment in institutions . . . that will provide the essential varieties of treatment," and that "such youth offenders shall be segregated from other offenders," does not prohibit any modification of the basic terms of a YCA sentence before its expiration. That is, such language does not require the judge to make an irrevocable determination of segregation or treatment needs, nor preclude a subsequent judge from redetermining those needs in light of intervening events. Pp. 454 U. S. 210-211.

(c) On the other hand, the YCA does not give the Bureau of Prisons independent authority to deny a youth offender the treatment and segregation from adults that a sentencing court mandates. Pp. 454 U. S. 211-213.

(d) The purposes of the YCA, as revealed in its structure and legislative history, compel the conclusion that a court faced with a choice of sentences for a youth offender still serving a YCA term is not deprived of the option of finding no further benefit in YCA treatment for the remainder of the term. Such history and structure also demonstrate Congress' intent that a court -- but not prison officials -- may require a youth offender to serve the remainder of a YCA sentence as an adult after the offender has received a consecutive adult term. When Congress withdrew from prison officials some of their traditional authority to adjust conditions of confinement, it could not have intended that no one exercise that authority, the only reasonable conclusion being that Congress reposed that authority in the court. Pp. 454 U. S. 213-217.

(e) The standards that a district judge should apply in determining whether an offender will obtain any further benefit from YCA treatment are no different from the standards applied in imposing the sentence originally. In light of all relevant factors, the judge can exercise his sound discretion in determining whether the offender should receive youth or adult treatment for the remainder of his term, and should make a judgment informed by both the YCA's rehabilitative purposes and the offender's realistic circumstances. Here, the second sentencing judge made a sufficient finding that respondent would not benefit from YCA treatment during the remainder of his youth term. Pp. 454 U. S. 218-219.

642 F.2d 1077, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 454 U. S. 221. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 454 U. S. 223.

Page 454 U. S. 203

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