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Stiver v. Meko

November 28, 1997

ROBERT C. STIVER, APPELLEE

v.

WARDEN JAMES MEKO, ROBERT STIVER, APPELLANT.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

(D.C. Civil No. 96-cv-00339)

BEFORE: COWEN, ROTH, and LEWIS, Circuit Judges.

LEWIS, Circuit Judge.

Filed November 28, 1997

ARGUED SEPTEMBER 23, 1997

OPINION OF THE COURT

Petitioner Robert Stiver contests a decision by the Bureau of Prisons (the "Bureau") denying him a one-year sentence reduction because of his previous convictions for violent offenses. Under the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, "prisoners convicted of a nonviolent offense" are eligible for a one-year sentence reduction upon successful completion of a drug treatment program. See 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 3621(e)(2)(B). *fn1 Stiver has been incarcerated since 1992 for possession of heroin with intent to distribute, a nonviolent offense. Because he has successfully completed a drug treatment program during this prison term, Stiver contends he is eligible for early release under the statute. Nonetheless, the Bureau denied him a sentence reduction pursuant to its regulation that categorically excludes inmates previously convicted of a violent crime from eligibility for early release under section 3621(e)(2)(B). See 28 C.F.R. Section(s) 550.58. *fn2 Stiver previously was convicted of robbery and aggravated assault, both of which are violent offenses.

Stiver sought a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2241, alleging that the Bureau's regulation conflicts with the enabling statute, 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 3621(e)(2)(B). He further alleged that the Bureau's regulation, 28 C.F.R. Section(s) 550.58, violates the double jeopardy and ex post facto clauses of the United States Constitution. The district court denied habeas corpus relief with regard to each of Stiver's claims, and this appeal followed.

The district court exercised jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 2241. *fn3 Our jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1291. *fn4 We will affirm.

I.

Stiver contends that 18 U.S.C. Section(s) 3621(e)(2)(B) allows the Bureau to consider only the offense for which an inmate is presently incarcerated when deciding whether to grant a sentence reduction. Thus, he argues, 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 550.58 represents an impermissible expansion of the authority Congress delegated to the Bureau. We review this question of statutory interpretation de novo. See Barden v. Keohane, 921 F.2d 476, 479 (3d Cir. 1990).

When examining an agency's construction of the statute it administers, we must first inquire "whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue." Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 842 (1984). If Congress has directly addressed the issue and the legislative intent is unambiguous, our inquiry must cease. See id.

The contested statute provides that

[t]he period a prisoner convicted of a nonviolent offense remains in custody after successfully completing a treatment program may be reduced by the Bureau of Prisons, but such reduction may not be more than one ...


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