BIFULCO V. UNITED STATES, 447 U. S. 381 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bifulco v. United States, 447 U.S. 381 (1980)

Bifulco v. United States

No. 79-5010

Argued February 27, 1980

Decided June 16, 1980

447 U.S. 381


Section 406 of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 (Act) provides that

"[a]ny person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this title is punishable by imprisonment or fine or both which may not exceed the maximum punishment prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy"

(the "target offense"). Petitioner and others were convicted of violating § 406 by conspiring to violate § 401(a)(1) of the Act by knowingly manufacturing, distributing, and possessing a controlled substance. In accordance with the provisions of § 401(b)(1)(B) prescribing penalties for violations of § 401(a)(1), petitioner was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, a fine, and a 5-year special parole term to be served upon completion of the term of imprisonment. The Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction, and thereafter he filed an action under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate his sentence, claiming that the sentence was unlawful because § 406 does not authorize the imposition of a special parole term. The District Court held that petitioner had been properly sentenced, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 406 of the Act does not authorize the imposition of a special parole term even though that sanction is included within the penalty provision of the target offense. Pp. 447 U. S. 387-401.

(a) A "plain meaning" interpretation of the term "imprisonment" in § 406 does not support the position that the term means a term of incarceration plus special parole made applicable by the target offense's penalty provisions. Moreover, the structure of the Act read as a whole supports the conclusion that § 406 defines the types of punishment authorized for conspirators -- imprisonment, fine, or both -- and sets maximum limits on those sanctions through reference to the penalty provisions of the target offense, but does not incorporate by reference any provisions for special parole. Pp. 447 U. S. 388-390.

(b) Nor does the Act's legislative history demonstrate that Congress intended that the penalties authorized for substantive offenses, and those for conspiracies to commit them, were to be identical, thus authorizing

Page 447 U. S. 382

special parole terms for conspiracy convictions. Instead, the history supports the view that § 406 authorizes two types of sanctions -- fines and imprisonment -- and fixes the maximum amount of each that may be imposed by reference to the target offense's penalty provisions. Pp. 447 U. S. 391-398.

(c) A reading of § 406 to include the special parole provisions of target offenses cannot be supported on the ground that Congress' principal objective in enacting the Act's penalty provisions -- to deter professional criminals from engaging in drug trafficking for profit -- renders it unreasonable to ascribe to Congress the intent to authorize special parole for isolated substantive offenses while withholding this sentencing tool for conspiracies. A comparison of those drug offenses for which Congress clearly authorized special parole terms with those for which it clearly did not does not reveal a coherent pattern based on the asserted justification for escalated sanctions. Moreover, since § 406 deals with both conspiracies and attempts, and prescribes an identical range of punishment for both, it is not surprising that Congress would provide for less stringent sanctions to be imposed for violations of § 406 than for a completed substantive offense. Pp. 447 U. S. 398-399.

600 F.2d 407, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 447 U. S. 401. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 447 U. S. 402.

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