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United States v. Dipasquale

submitted: May 10, 1988.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Criminal No. 81-361-1.

Higginbotham, Sloviter and Maris, Circuit Judges.

Author: Maris


MARIS, Circuit Judge.

Anthony DiPasquale, following a trial and conviction by a jury on four counts of violations of 18 U.S.C. § 894(a), was sentenced on May 9, 1983, to serve the maximum prison term provided for each of the four violations to run consecutively to each other, a total of 80 years in prison. Purportedly under the authority of 18 U.S.C. § 4205(b)(1), the district court designated DiPasquale's eligibility for parole to commence after service of one-third of his term, 26 years and 8 months. The judgment was appealed and affirmed by this court. 740 F.2d 1282 (1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1228, 105 S. Ct. 1226, 84 L. Ed. 2d 364, 105 S. Ct. 1227 (1985).

Subsequently, on December 22, 1986, DiPasquale filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 attacking the legality of his sentence. That motion, as supplemented by a memorandum filed January 21, 1987, included an attack on the legality of the parole eligibility provision of his sentence. It was denied August 7, 1987. DiPasquale appeals, raising the single issue, whether 18 U.S.C. § 4205(b)(1) permits the district court to impose a pre-parole eligibility period which exceeds the limitation of 10 years set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 4205(a). The courts of appeals which have considered this issue are divided in their interpretation of 18 U.S.C. § 4205.*fn1

As set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 4205(a), federal prisoners generally are eligible for consideration for release on parole after they have served one-third of their prison term except that prisoners serving a life term or one of over thirty years are so eligible after serving 10 years of their term. Under this provision, the appellant would automatically be eligible for parole consideration after serving 10 years of his 80-year sentence. However, the district court chose to designate the appellant's eligibility for parole under the authority granted the sentencing court under 18 U.S.C. § 4205(b)(1), interpreting subsection (b)(1) as eliminating the 10-year ceiling mandated in the immediately preceding general parole provision of subsection (a) and setting the date of appellant's eligibility for parole as commencing after his service of one-third of his sentence or 26 years and 8 months.

We start with a consideration of the language of the statute,*fn2 which, the government argues, plainly gives the sentencing court the power exercised here, to postpone the parole eligibility date beyond the 10-year ceiling which would automatically go into effect under the general provision stated in subsection (a). The government urges that this is the plain purport of § 4205(b)(1) since the phrase in subsection (a) stating the 10-year ceiling is omitted from subsection (b)(1).

First, with regard to the argument that the silence of § 4205(b)(1) should be construed to give the sentencing court power to disregard the 10-year ceiling for parole eligibility in § 4205(a), such a construction is far from compelled. Section 4205(a) embodies the former entire parole eligibility law, the provisions of § 4205(b) being a later addition to it. And we are cautioned against reading into legislation any significant change in the law, particularly the criminal law, unless the legislative history clearly supports it. Muniz v. Hoffman, 422 U.S. 454, 470-474, 45 L. Ed. 2d 319, 95 S. Ct. 2178 (1975). Moreover, what the government is urging is that we read into silence, the omission from subsection (b)(1) of the phrase stated in subsection (a), a totally opposite thrust to subsection (b)(1) from that which the actual language it contains suggests. Clearly, the purport of the empowering language used in § 4205(b)(1), "which [minimum] term may be less than but shall not be more than one-third of the maximum sentence," emphasis added, is to empower the sentencing court to reduce the pre-parole eligibility period, not to extend it. In addition, in construing a statute, we are required to consider the statute as a whole. This is particularly true as to § 4205 under which the Congress in 1976 by the Parole Commission and Reorganization Act brought together two priorly separated provisions, prior §§ 4202 and 4208. The parts of a statute are not to be read in isolation; the statute must be read as a whole. United States v. Morton, 467 U.S. 822, 828, 81 L. Ed. 2d 680, 104 S. Ct. 2769 (1984); United States v. Busic, 592 F.2d 13, 26 (2d Cir. 1978). In construing a statute, the court must not be guided by a single sentence or part of a sentence, but must look to the provisions of the whole law and, moreover, to its object and policy. Philbrook v. Glodgett, 421 U.S. 707, 713-714, 44 L. Ed. 2d 525, 95 S. Ct. 1893 (1975). In order to construe the parole eligibility provisions contained in § 4205(a) and (b)(1) against the background of their history, object and policy, we turn to the legislative history.

The 1948 codification*fn3 of the parole eligibility statute, 18 U.S.C. § 4202, provided that federal prisoners serving a term of over one year could be released on parole after serving one-third of their term or after serving 15 years of a life sentence. In 1951,*fn4 among other amendments to § 4202, there was added after the phrase "of a life sentence" "or of a sentence of over forty-five years." The purpose of the addition was stated in Senate Committee Report No. 524 to be:

The present inflexible rule that a prisoner sentenced to a definite term must serve one-third of his sentence to become eligible for parole seems unjust in its application to prisoners sentenced for more than 45 years because a prisoner serving a life sentence becomes eligible in 15 years. Thus, under the present law, a prisoner sentenced to a total of 60 years on a charge less severe in its nature than homicide, will have to serve 20 years before becoming eligible for parole, while a person sentenced to life for homicide becomes eligible for parole after serving 15 years. 1951 U.S. Code Cong. and Adm. News p. 1676.

Thus, in 1951, it was determined that parole eligibility, which was to begin after a prisoner served one-third of his sentence, was in every case to commence, regardless of the length of any prisoner's sentence, after service of 15 years. It may be noted here that the district court's construction of § 4205(b)(1) in the present case, in effect, incorporates into that provision the anomaly eliminated in 1951 from the general statute, that eligibility for parole could commence earlier for a lifer than for a prisoner under a sentence for a long term of years.

In 1958 was enacted*fn5 the predecessor of § 4205(b)(1), § 4208(a)(1), the language being identical. Section 4208(a) was section 3 of the 1958 statute. Section 7 provided:

This Act does not apply to any offense for which there is provided a mandatory penalty. Pub.L. No. ...

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