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Do people on federal supervised release have the right to a jury?

Andre Haymond of Oklahoma was convicted in federal court of possessing child pornography in 2010. As part of his sentence, he was placed on supervised release for 10 years. When he was accused of violating his supervised release, he was ordered to serve an additional 5 years in prison -- longer than his original term of incarceration. Now, he is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that he should have received a jury trial before being sentenced to the additional five years.

Federal supervised release is different from state parole or probation. In parole or probation, the defendant is given the chance to serve part of their incarceration sentence in the community under certain conditions. If they violate those conditions, they are returned to serve the remainder of their sentence behind bars.

Supervised release, on the other hand, is a separate, non-incarceration part of the overall sentence. Defendants are not being allowed to serve part of their incarceration in the community. The conditions and period of supervised release are actually part of the sentence. If defendants violate the conditions, they are not simply returned to fulfill a previous sentence. They are given additional incarceration time -- five years or more can be added to their sentence.

This is significant because the Supreme Court has ruled several times that time cannot be added to a defendant's sentence unless a jury finds, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person committed an additional offense. In this case, the offense was violating the terms of conditional release.

Justices seem likely to rule in the defendant's favor

According to SCOTUSblog, most of the Supreme Court justices seemed inclined, during oral arguments, to rule that a jury trial is required before additional time can be added to a defendant's sentence.

It is not under dispute that parole and probation can be revoked when a defendant violates their terms. But doing so merely results in a change in the circumstances of the sentence. Instead of being allowed out in the community, a violator finds him- or herself back behind bars. However, the total time of the sentence remains the same.

In Haymond's case, a violation of his supervised release added actual time to his term of incarceration. Originally sentenced to 38 months (3 years and 2 months) in prison, he was sentenced to five years behind bars for the violation. Only after the new five-year sentenced was served would his supervised release term continue. In other words, the additional incarceration does not shorten the supervised release period.

"If this isn't a clear-cut violation" of the Supreme Court's prior cases, asked Justice Elena Kagen, "then what is?"

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