Supreme Court hears arguments on prison sentences, patents News
Supreme Court hears arguments on prison sentences, patents
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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website, JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Monday in Tapia v. United States [oral arguments transcript, PDF] to determine whether a district court may impose a longer prison sentence on a defendant to promote rehabilitation. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the US District Court for the Southern District of California made no error when basing Alejandra Tapia’s sentence on speculation that she could enter and complete the Bureau of Prison’s 500-hour drug abuse treatment program [RDAP fact sheet text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has similarly held that a longer sentence to promote rehabilitation is permissible, but the US Courts of Appeals for the Second, Third, Eleventh and DC Circuits have held that it is prohibited [issue list, PDF]. Counsel for the petitioner argued that when enacting 18 USC § 3582 [text], Congress did not intend to allow courts to send defendants to prison in order to get treatment, saying:

When it instructed courts to recognize that imprisonment is not an appropriate means of promoting correction and rehabilitation, Congress intended to end the practice of sending defendants to prison so that they might get treatment. The commands of 3582 are clear on this point: Do no imprison and do not lengthen prison sentences for the purposes of rehabilitation. … Under the statute, judges have the power to sentence defendants to prison but not to prison programs…[W]ith regard to revocation, to the extent that that’s at issue, we concur with the Solicitor General that doesn’t govern a revocation of supervised release because it’s not the imposition of a term of imprisonment but, rather, requiring the individual to serve a portion of the supervised release term in prison. So, by its plain terms, it simply isn’t applicable.

Counsel for the government argued that “Section 3582(a) prohibits courts from imposing or lengthening a term of imprisonment to promote a defendant’s rehabilitation, including by facilitating her access to a prison drug treatment program.” In doing this however, Congress intended to reject the former rehabilitation model of sentencing where defendants were kept in prison until they were deemed rehabilitated, based on their participation in treatment programs. By forcing participation in programs, rehabilitation could not always be achieved in a prison setting. But if other goals of sentencing, like deterrence and protecting the public required a certain term of imprisonment, the court was free to impose it.

In Microsoft v. i4i Limited Partnership [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court will determine whether the Patent Act [35 USC §§ 1-376 text] requires the invalidity defense to be proven by clear and convincing evidence. The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit followed its precedent and held [opinion, PDF] that a challenger to a patent claim must prove invalidity by clear and convincing evidence. Additionally, the appeals court held that the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence as to damages or in granting enhanced damages. Counsel for the petitioner argued that the default standard of review is preponderance of the evidence, which governs all patent cases because 35 USC § 282 “does not specify a heightened standard of proof … therefore, preponderance, the default standard applies.” Counsel further explained that:

[I]t makes no sense to have a heightened standard of proof when the relevant prior art evidence was never even considered by [the Patent and Trademark Office]. Under any view, it was error to require clear and convincing proof of invalidity in this case. … And, moreover, while the statute does not specify a heightened standard, it does actually speak to and preclude the argument that i4i makes. … The statute requires a degree of deference by shifting the burden of proof and the burden of going forward, but for i4i to say that we need to go beyond what the presumption is, the normal default standard of preponderance, you need some heightened reason for that. There’s absolutely none, particularly when the Patent Office didn’t consider the evidence, didn’t make a decision, there was no decision and no evidence considered going to the relevant question.

Counsel for the respondent argued that “The long-settled, clear and convincing evidence standard is correct, one, as a matter of statutory interpretation, two, as a matter of stare decisis in a field in which stability is particularly important, and, three, as a matter of first principles.” Counsel further explained that Congress is well aware of the clear and convincing evidence standard and has done nothing to change it, even though it has been very active in patent legislation.