Submitted: February 13, 2019
from United States District Court for the Western District of
Missouri - Springfield
SMITH, Chief Judge, BENTON and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
Clark appeals the order committing him to the custody of the
Attorney General for hospitalization and mental-health
treatment. The statute under which the action was taken, 18
U.S.C. § 4246, authorizes commitment proceedings for
prisoners whose sentences are "about to expire."
Clark argues that the government did not begin the commitment
process until months after his sentence had already expired,
so a necessary condition for his commitment was missing. We
agree and reverse the commitment order.
was in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for a long time,
first for possessing a firearm as a felon and later for the
first-degree murder of a fellow inmate. While in prison, he
was committed to the custody of the Attorney General for
hospitalization and treatment. United States v.
Clark, 655 Fed.Appx. 521 (8th Cir. 2016) (unpublished
per curiam); see also 18 U.S.C. § 4245
(authorizing commitment and hospitalization of "a person
serving a sentence of imprisonment," which cannot extend
past "the expiration of the sentence").
Bureau determined that his prison sentence was due to end in
September 2017. But after an audit in July 2016, the Bureau
realized it had made a mistake and had not accounted for the
total amount of time that he had spent in custody.
Clark's true release date, according to the audit, was
October 2015. Rather than release Clark immediately after
discovering its error, the government instead filed a
petition asking the district court to continue his
petition relied on 18 U.S.C. § 4246, which authorizes
the district court to commit "a person in the custody of
the Bureau of Prisons whose sentence is about to
expire" if he or she has "a mental disease or
defect" that creates "a substantial risk of bodily
injury . . . or serious damage to property." 18 U.S.C.
§ 4246(a), (d) (emphasis added). Clark moved to dismiss
the petition because his sentence had already
expired. The district court committed Clark anyway.
circumstances of this case are unusual, but the lone legal
question posed by the parties is simple: if Clark's
release date had already passed when the government
petitioned the district court to commit him, was his sentence
still "about to expire"? Id. §
4246(a). The only conceivable answer is no.
adverb "about," used in this way, refers to
something that is on the verge of happening. See The
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 5
(5th ed. 2011); Webster's Third New International
Dictionary 5 (2002). And the verb "to expire,"
when referring to a discrete time period like a prison
sentence, means to end. See The American Heritage
Dictionary of the English Language, supra, at
624; Webster's Third New International
Dictionary, supra, at 801; cf. Black's
Law Dictionary 700 (10th ed. 2014). So a prisoner
"whose sentence is about to expire," 18 U.S.C.
§ 4246(a), has one that has not ended yet, but soon
will. This clearly does not describe Clark, whose sentence
ended months before the government filed its petition.
government argues, however, that the district court had the
authority to commit Clark because the Bureau had not yet
released him from custody when it filed its petition. It
essentially treats the phrase "about to expire" as
the same as "about to be released." On its own
terms, this argument is a stretch, but even if it were not,
the remainder of the statute forecloses it. The statute
consistently uses the word "release" to describe
when a prisoner is no longer in custody. See id.
§ 4246(a), (d), (d)(2), (e), (e)(1), (2), (2)(B), (f),
(g). The word "expire," by contrast, appears just
this once. The natural inference is that when the statute
means release, it says so, and when it says
"expire," it must mean something else. See Sosa
v. Alvarez-Machain, 542 U.S. 692, 711 n.9 (2004)
(describing the presumption that different words in the same
statute mean different things); see also Antonin
Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The
Interpretation of Legal Texts 170 (2012) ("[W]here
[a] document has used one term in one place, and a materially
different term in another, the presumption is that the
different term denotes a different idea.").
statutes confirm this conclusion. See generally Wachovia
Bank v. Schmidt, 546 U.S. 303, 315-16 (2006) (explaining
that "under the in pari materia canon of
statutory construction, statutes addressing the same subject
matter generally should be read as if they were one law"
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted)); Scalia
& Garner, supra, at 252. The provision setting
out how federal prison sentences operate, for example, says
that "[a] person who has been sentenced to a term of
imprisonment . . . shall be committed to the custody of the
Bureau of Prisons until the expiration of the term imposed,
or until earlier released for satisfactory behavior." 18
U.S.C. § 3621(a). This provision makes clear that even
though the expectation is that prisoners will be released
when their sentences expire, sometimes it happens earlier,
meaning that expiration of a sentence and release from
custody do not necessarily happen at the same time. The same
distinction appears in the provision addressing release,