Setser v. United States
Annotate this Case
566 U.S. ___ (2012)
When petitioner was indicted in a Texas court on drug charges, the State also moved to revoke the probation term that he was then serving for another drug offense. At about the same time, petitioner pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. At issue was whether a district court, in sentencing a defendant for a federal offense, had authority to order that the federal sentence be consecutive to an anticipated state sentence that had not yet been imposed. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. 3584(a), addressed the concurrent-vs.-consecutive decision, but not the situation here, since the District Court did not impose "multiple terms of imprisonment... at the same time," and petitioner was not "already subject to" the state sentence at issue. This did not mean that the District Court lacked authority to act as it did and that the Bureau of Prisons was to make the concurrent-vs.-consecutive decision after the federal sentence had been imposed. It was more natural to read section 3584(a) as leaving room for the exercise of judicial discretion in situations not covered than it was to read section 3621(b) as giving the Bureau what amounted to sentencing authority. Because it was within the District Court's discretion to order that petitioner's sentence run consecutively to his anticipated state sentence in the probation revocation proceeding; and because the state court's subsequent decision to make that sentence concurrent with its other sentence did not establish that the District Court abused its discretion by imposing an unreasonable sentence; the Court affirmed the judgment of the Fifth Circuit.
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
SETSER v. UNITED STATES
certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit
No. 10–7387. Argued November 30, 2011—Decided March 28, 2012
When petitioner Setser was indicted in a Texas court on drug charges, the State also moved to revoke the probation term that he was then serving for another drug offense. At about the same time, Setser pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. The Federal District Court imposed a 151-month sentence to run consecutively to any state sentence imposed for the probation violation, but concurrently with any state sentence imposed on the new drug charge. While Setser’s federal appeal was pending, the state court sentenced him to 5 years for the probation violation and 10 years for the drug charge, but ordered the sentences to be served concurrently. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the federal sentence, holding that the District Court had authority to order a sentence consecutive to an anticipated state sentence, and that Setser’s sentence was reasonable, even if the state court’s decision made it unclear exactly how to administer it.
1. The District Court had discretion to order that Setser’s federal sentence run consecutively to his anticipated state sentence for the probation violation. Pp. 2–12.
(a) Judges have traditionally had broad discretion in selecting whether the sentences they impose will run concurrently or consecutively with respect to other sentences that they impose, or that have been imposed in other proceedings, including state proceedings, see Oregon v. Ice, 555 U. S. 160 –169. The statutory text and structure do not foreclose a district court’s exercise of this discretion with respect to anticipated state sentences. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 addresses the concurrent-vs.-consecutive decision, but not the situation here, since the District Court did not impose “multiple terms of imprisonment . . . at the same time,” and Setser was not “already subject to” the state sentences at issue, 18 U. S. C. §3584(a). This does not mean, as Setser and the Government claim, that the District Court lacked authority to act as it did and that the Bureau of Prisons is to make the concurrent-vs.-consecutive decision after the federal sentence has been imposed. Section 3621(b), from which the Bureau claims to derive this authority, says nothing about concurrent or consecutive sentences. And it is more natural to read §3584(a) as leaving room for the exercise of judicial discretion in situations not covered than it is to read §3621(b) as giving the Bureau what amounts to sentencing authority. Setser’s arguments to the contrary are unpersuasive. Pp. 2–8.
(b) None of the other objections raised by Setser and the Government requires a different result. Pp. 8–12.
2. The state court’s subsequent decision to make the state sentences run concurrently does not establish that the Federal District Court imposed an unreasonable sentence. The difficulty here arises not from the federal-court sentence—which is to run concurrently with one state sentence and consecutively with another—but from the state court’s decision. Deciding which of the District Court’s dispositions should prevail under these circumstances is a problem, but it does not show the District Court’s sentence to be unlawful. The reasonableness standard for reviewing federal sentences asks whether the district court abused its discretion, see Gall v. United States, 552 U. S. 38 , but Setser identifies no flaw in the District Court’s decisionmaking process, nor anything available at the time of sentencing that the court failed to consider. Where late-onset facts make it difficult, or even impossible, to implement the sentence, the Bureau of Prisons may determine, in the first instance, how long the District Court’s sentence authorizes it to continue Setser’s confinement, subject to the potential for judicial review. Pp. 12–14.
607 F. 3d 128, affirmed.
Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Kennedy and Ginsburg, JJ., joined.