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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Alejandra Tapia
United States
Decided By 
(for the petitioner)
(Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent in support of vacatur)
(for amicus curiae (appointed by the Court))
Facts of the Case 

Alejandra Tapia was convicted of bringing illegal aliens into the United States and of jumping bail after being charged with immigration crimes. Following the jury trial, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California sentenced Tapia to 51 months in prison, noting that one factor in giving her a longer sentence was to make sure she remained confined long enough to take part in a drug rehab program.

Tapia appealed the sentence, arguing that the district court committed plain error by basing her sentence on speculation about whether and when she could enter and complete the Bureau of Prison's 500-hour drug abuse treatment program. But in April 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court order.


Can a district court give a defendant a longer prison sentence to promote rehabilitation?

Decision: 9 votes for Tapia, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 18 U.S.C. §3582(a)

No. The Supreme Court reversed the lower court holding in a unanimous decision by Justice Elena Kagan. "Section 3582(a) does not permit a sentencing court to impose or lengthen a prison term in order to foster a defendant's rehabilitation," Kagan wrote. Meanwhile, Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion joined by Justice Samuel Alito in which she wrote: "I agree with the Court's conclusion that 18 U. S. C. §3582(a) 'precludes federal courts from imposing or lengthening a prison term in order to promote a criminal defendant's rehabilitation. ' I write separately to note my skepticism that the District Judge violated this proscription in this case."

Cite this Page
TAPIA v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2010/2010_10_5400>.
TAPIA v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2010/2010_10_5400 (last visited August 25, 2015).
"TAPIA v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2010/2010_10_5400.