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Olden v. United States

September 27, 2001


Before Schwelb, Ruiz, and Washington, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Criminal Division (Hon. Stephen G. Milliken, Trial Judge)

Argued February 15, 2001

The appellant, Darryl Olden, alleges that the trial court overstepped its authority by imposing conditions on probation that must be fulfilled before he is released from prison. Olden was convicted of second-degree burglary and sentenced to five to fifteen years, with all but two of those years suspended, followed by five years of probation. As a condition of probation, the court required Olden to find a space in a remote drug treatment facility outside of the District of Columbia, and to travel directly to that institution upon release from prison, stopping only to register for probation. If Olden were unable to find space in such facility, he was to remain incarcerated. Olden challenges his sentence on two grounds:

(1) the trial court has no explicit authority to impose a "conditional" sentence, and

(2) the trial court's sentence interferes with the power of the United States Parole Commission to set the conditions of confinement. *fn1

Finding neither argument persuasive, we affirm.


Olden, after pleading guilty to second degree burglary, was sentenced to "five to fifteen years ESS [Execution of Sentence Suspended] all but two years or placement in remote residential bed whichever comes later [followed by] five year[s] [of] supervised probation." In the margins of the order, the judge added that the "[d]efendant is to be released from prison to go directly to [a] residential treatment bed without passing [through] D.C. except to register for probation." Because Olden's probation officer interpreted the order as authorizing drug treatment in lieu of two years in prison, the government filed a motion to amend the judgment. The court responded that the judgment "require[s] no correction," and explained that Olden must serve at least two years in prison, and remain there until space in a residential treatment facility is available.


Olden presents two objections to his sentence. The first is that the trial court had no authority to set a "conditional" sentence - i.e., one with a duration determined, in part, by fulfillment of a condition precedent. The second is based not on the substance of the court's condition, but on its timing: he contends that a probationary condition imposed before probation begins, while he is in prison, interferes with the authority of the Parole Commission and is therefore beyond the power of the trial court.

"It is settled law that a sentencing court has no authority to impose a sentence of a nature or in a manner not authorized by statute." Clayton v. United States, 429 A.2d 1381, 1383 (D.C. 1981). To determine whether Olden's sentence is authorized, we begin with an analysis of the plain language of the statute. See Peoples Drug Stores, Inc. v. District of Columbia, 470 A.2d 751, 753 (D.C. 1983).

The District of Columbia Code *fn2 authorizes the trial court to suspend all or a part of a sentence "for such time and upon such terms as it deems best," as long as "the ends of justice and the best interest of the public and of the defendant would be served thereby." D.C. Code § 16-710 (a) (2001). *fn3 If the court elects to suspend imposition of a prison sentence, it may place that person on probation. See id. The terms and conditions of probation must be provided in writing to the probationer, and he must consent to those terms. See id. There is also an implicit requirement that the terms of probation "be reasonably related to the rehabilitation of the convicted person and the protection of the public." Moore v. United States, 387 A.2d 714, 716 (D.C. 1978) (interpreting the version of D.C. Code § 16-710 in effect in 1973, identical to the current version of the statute in relevant part); see also Basile v. United States, 38 A.2d 620, 622 (D.C. 1944) (holding that the court may impose any conditions on probation that are not "immoral, illegal or impossible of performance").

The words of the statute are plain and, understood in their ordinary meaning, they authorize the court to impose Olden's sentence. The power to suspend a sentence "for such time and upon such terms as [the court] deems best" necessarily includes the authority to suspend a sentence upon fulfillment of a condition precedent - in this case, a requirement that Olden be accepted for admission to a drug treatment facility. Moreover, the terms of Olden's probation are "reasonably related" to his rehabilitation: A court-ordered evaluation indicated that his drug use significantly contributed to his criminal behavior. And there is no doubt that Olden consented to a drug rehabilitation program. He petitioned the trial court for such treatment and has never raised ...

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