Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Rule of Clerical Error

I discovered that the BOP has me scheduled for release on Sept 28 rather than June 28 -- a difference of 3 months! This is simply the culmination of a frustrating sequence of clerical errors since I received my sentence on Feb 13.

To summarize, I was sentenced to 3 months incarceration in the custody of BOP followed by 3 years of supervised release with a special condition of 3 months home confinement. This occurred because my US Sentencing Guidelines sentence range was 10-16 months (12 points). A point total of 12 or less is eligible for a "split" sentence; this is, half of the sentence can be served as home confinement.

The judge gave me a 6-month split sentence (below the guideline's recommendation) - 3 months incarceration and 3 months home confinement. However, when he issued the Judgment and Commitment letter (J&C), which is the document that goes to the BOP and the Dept of Probation explaning the sentence, the prison sentence was listed as "6 months" followed by the explanation that 3 months was incarceration and 3 months was home confinement.

This is an awkward way to describe the sentence. The 3 months home confinement is actually under the supervision of the probation department, not the BOP. It was correctly listed as a special condition of supervised release on a separate page, but the BOP didn't read that; all they saw was a 6 month sentence.

My lawyer immediately identified the confusing language back in February and persuaded the judge's deputy to modify the J&C and an amended J&C was issued that changed the prison sentence section to simply read "3 months," as it should have been. (There were actually several other additional significant mistakes made on the original J&C, but I won't bother you with those embarrassing details.)

Unfortunately the BOP appears to have only received the original J&C and, as we feared, they were confused by the awkward language and indeed recorded a wrongful 6 month sentence. How they planned on handling my 3 months of home confinement is a mystery! The Records manager here at the prison that I spoke with today admits that the sentence is wrong and that, despite the confusing language, the BOP still should have calculated the sentence correctly. She has raised the issue via email with the national center that computes sentences. My lawyer has indicated that it may take 2 weeks to correct this error.

I could go on and on about the comedy of errors in my case of which this is one not insignificant example but it is probably not in my best interest to do so.

We were all raised to believe in the Rule of Law, which sounds nice in theory. In practice, it is fallible people who must execute this theory and errors are made. Some of these errors may be due to incompetence, mere indifference, carelessness, as in this case, or, in some cases, even corruption.

To be forced to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to prevent a sloppy clerical error from doubling my incarceration (as well as other sentencing errors I won't describe) is further proof that I have indeed entered The Rabbit Hole.

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