United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
Charles W. Ramsey, Jr., Appellant
United States Parole Commission, Appellee
September 22, 2016
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:13-cv-01003)
Beverly G. Dyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender, argued
the cause for the appellant. A.J. Kramer, Federal Public
Defender, was with her on the briefs.
J. Lenerz, Assistant United States Attorney, argued the cause
for the appellee. Elizabeth Trosman and John P. Mannarino,
Assistant United States Attorneys, were with him on the
Before: Henderson and Millett, Circuit Judges, and Sentelle,
Senior Circuit Judge.
LeCraft Henderson, Circuit Judge.
essence of parole is release from prison, before the
completion of sentence, on the condition that the prisoner
abide by certain rules during the balance of the
sentence." Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471,
477 (1972). But what if the parolee breaks the rules? More
specifically, what happens if he commits a new offense? In
the federal system, the United States Parole Commission
(Commission) can revoke the offender's parole and order
that he serve all or some of the remaining sentence in
prison. The Commission can also retrospectively deny him
credit for the time he has served on parole-his "street
time"-so that his remaining sentence is the same as it
was when he was released on parole.
general principles guide our resolution of Charles
Ramsey's appeal. In the 1970s, Ramsey was convicted of
drug and firearm offenses for which he was sentenced to a
total of 32 years in federal prison. In the 1980s, he was
paroled and released from prison. In the 1990s, he violated
the conditions of his parole by committing a new drug
offense. He pleaded guilty to the 1990s offense pursuant to a
plea agreement that said nothing about his past offenses,
parole or street time. In this case, he filed a habeas corpus
petition in which he argued that the plea agreement, as
construed by the Southern District of West Virginia,
terminated his parole or at least prohibited the Commission
from using his 1990s offense to deny him credit for street
time or for other parole-related purposes. Unpersuaded, the
district court denied his habeas petition. 82 F.Supp.3d 293
(D.D.C. 2015). We, too, reject his reading of the plea
agreement and accordingly uphold the denial of his petition.
The Federal Parole System
Congress abolished parole for federal offenders in 1984,
effective November 1, 1987. Sentencing Reform Act of 1984,
Pub. L. No. 98-473, §§ 218(a)(5), 235(a)(1), 98
Stat. 1987, 2027, 2031 (Oct. 12, 1984); Sentencing Reform
Amendments Act of 1985, Pub. L. No. 99-217, § 4, 99
Stat. 1728, 1728 (Dec. 26, 1985); see Gozlon-Peretz v.
United States, 498 U.S. 395, 400 n.4 (1991). Remnants
linger, however, because repeal did not affect offenders
convicted before November 1987. Sentencing Reform Act §
235(b)(1)(A), 98 Stat. at 2032. Chapter 311 of title 18
continues to govern parole for such offenders. 18 U.S.C.
§§ 4201-4218; see United States Parole
Commission Extension Act of 2013, Pub. L. No. 113-47, §
2, 127 Stat. 572, 572 (Oct. 31, 2013) (extending parole
system through October 2018).
relevant here, section 4203 gives the Commission the power to
"grant or deny an application or recommendation to
parole any eligible prisoner[, ]" 18 U.S.C. §
4203(b)(1), and to "modify or revoke an order paroling
any eligible prisoner[, ]" id. §
4203(b)(3). Section 4209 provides that, "[i]n every
case, the Commission shall impose as conditions of parole
that the parolee not commit another Federal, State, or local
crime [and] that the parolee not possess illegal controlled
substances . . . ." Id. § 4209(a). Section
4210(b)(2) applies to an offender who, having been released
on parole, is "convicted of any criminal offense . . .
punishable by a term of imprisonment, detention or
incarceration in any penal facility . . . ."
Id. § 4210(b)(2). In such a case, "the
Commission shall determine . . . whether all or any part of
the unexpired term being served at the time of parole shall
run concurrently or consecutively with the sentence imposed
for the new offense . . . ." Id. Section 4211
gives the Commission authority to grant "[e]arly
termination of parole" but only "[u]pon its own
motion or upon request of the parolee . . . ."
Id. § 4211(a). Section 4213 provides that
"[i]f any parolee is alleged to have violated his
parole, the Commission may" summon him to appear at a
revocation hearing or "issue a warrant and retake"
him. Id. § 4213(a)(1)-(2). Section 4214(d)
provides that when a parolee is summoned or retaken and the
Commission finds that he has violated a condition of his
parole, the Commission may "restore the parolee to
supervision, " "reprimand" him,
"modify" the conditions of his parole, "refer
[him] to a residential community treatment center, "
"release" him "as if on parole" or
"formally revoke parole." Id. §
Commission's regulations are codified in 28 C.F.R. Part
2. Section 2.20 establishes guidelines that "indicate
the customary range of time to be served [in prison] before
release for various combinations of offense (severity) and
offender (parole prognosis) characteristics." 28 C.F.R.
§ 2.20(b). Section 2.20's table of ranges is akin to
the sentencing table of the United States Sentencing
Guidelines. See U.S. Sentencing Comm'n, U.S.
Sentencing Guidelines Manual ch. 5, pt. A (2015). The
vertical axis in section 2.20 is divided into eight
categories based on "Offense characteristics: Severity
of offense behavior." 28 C.F.R. § 2.20. The
horizontal axis is divided into four categories based on
"Offender characteristics: Parole prognosis, " also
known as the offender's "salient factor score."
Id. The shortest guideline range, stated in months,
is "≤4." Id. The longest is
"180." Id. Pursuant to section 2.21, the
guidelines in section 2.20 apply when the Commission
considers reparoling an offender whose parole has been
revoked. Id. § 2.21(b). Section 2.21 makes
clear that the guidelines are just that: non-binding
recommendations. Id. § 2.21(d) ("The above
are merely guidelines. A decision outside these guidelines
(either above or below) may be made when circumstances
section 2.52 governs the Commission's "[r]evocation
decisions." Section 2.52(b) provides that, when the
Commission revokes parole, it "shall also determine, on
the basis of the revocation hearing, whether reparole is
warranted or whether the prisoner should be continued for
further review." 28 C.F.R. § 2.52(b). Section
2.52(c) sets forth "the Commission's interpretation
of 18 U.S.C. 4210(b)(2)." Id. §
2.52(c)(2). The Commission's interpretation is that
if a parolee has been convicted of a new offense committed
subsequent to his release on parole, which is punishable by
any term of imprisonment, detention, or incarceration in any
penal facility, forfeiture of time from the date of such
release to the date of execution of the warrant is an
automatic statutory penalty, and such time shall not be
credited to the service of the sentence.
the foregoing provisions in mind, we recap Ramsey's
odyssey through the parole system.
Ramsey's 1970s offenses and 32-year sentence
February 1975, Ramsey began serving a maximum aggregate
prison sentence of 32 years for importation of a controlled
substance, unlawful possession of firearms and related
offenses of which he was convicted in three federal cases in
the District of Columbia (D.C.) and the Southern District of
New York. His 32-year term was to be followed by six years of
"special parole, " the pre-Sentencing Reform Act
equivalent of supervised release. 28 C.F.R. § 2.57(a)
(describing special parole as "an additional period of
supervision which commences upon completion of any period on
parole or mandatory release supervision from the regular
sentence"); see United States v. Todd, 287 F.3d
1160, 1161 (D.C. Cir. 2002).
1989, Ramsey was released on parole with about 17 years and
nine months left of his 32-year term. Consistent with 18
U.S.C. § 4209(a), one of the conditions of his parole
provided in part: "You shall not violate any law."
United States' Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Amend or
Correct Sentence, Dkt. No. 3, Ex. 3 at 3. Another condition
prohibited him from possessing drugs. Id.
Ramsey's 1995 cocaine offense and ...