The 2016 Guidelines Manual Amendments

Today, the 2016 amendments to the United States Sentencing Commission’s Guidelines Manual go live. The topics of this year’s adjustments are:

  1. Compassionate Release from Prison;
  2. Animal Fighting;
  3. Child Pornography Circuit Conflicts;
  4. Immigration; and,
  5. Conditions of Probation and Supervised Release.

Obviously, here we’ll be focusing on the Conditions of Probation and Supervised release, with some later posts dealing with the changes in sentence structures for Animal Fighting, Immigration cases, and possibly Porn. To see the full press release on the amendments that go live today, click here.

Conditions of Federal Probation/Supervised Release

The section of the amendments list regarding the standard, mandatory, and special conditions of supervised release gets started this way:

Reason for Amendment:
This amendment is a result of the Commission’s multi-year review of sentencing practices relating to federal probation and supervised release. The amendment makes several changes to the guidelines and policy statements related to conditions of probation, §5B1.3 (Conditions of Probation), and supervised release, §5D1.3 (Conditions of Supervised Release).

When imposing a sentence of probation or a sentence of imprisonment that includes a period of supervised release, the court is required to impose certain conditions of supervision listed by statute. 18 U.S.C. §§ 3563(a) and 3583(d). Congress has also empowered courts to impose additional conditions of probation and supervised release that are reasonably related to statutory sentencing factors contained in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), so long as those conditions “involve only such deprivations of liberty or property as are reasonably necessary for the purposes indicated in 3553(a)(2).” 18 U.S.C. § 3563(b); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d). Additional conditions of supervised release must also be consistent with any pertinent policy statements issued by the Commission. See 18 U.S.C. §3583(d)(3).

The Commission is directed by its organic statute to promulgate policy statements on the appropriate use of the conditions of probation and supervised release, see 28 U.S.C. § 994(a)(2)(B), and has implemented this directive in §§5B1.3 and 5D1.3. The provisions follow a parallel structure, first setting forth those conditions of supervision that are required by statute in their respective subsections (a) and (b), and then providing guidance on discretionary conditions, which are categorized as “standard” conditions, “special” conditions, and “additional” special conditions, in subsections (c), (d), and (e), respectively.

There is a deeper discussion of cases which have challenged certain restrictions that are placed on federal defendants on supervised release, which is very interesting, but too long to post here.

In essence, here are the changes that this amendment made.

  1. Court Established Payment Schedules: If the Court imposes a mandatory payment schedule for a Special Assessment, Fine, or Restitution Judgment, then that schedule is law. All this amendment really did is change the placement of Court-imposed payment schedules from the “mandatory” section to the “standard” conditions section.
  2. Sex Offenders: Ambiguity was removed from the mandatory condition of a convicted federal sex offender’s requirement to register as a sex offender in their specific state.
  3. Reporting to the Probation Officer: This, too, is simply there to relieve some ambiguity. If a defendant is released to be supervised outside  the jurisdiction of the convicting court, then they are to report to the probation officer of the local Court, then to whomever they’re directed to report to after that.
  4. Leaving the Jurisdiction: This is a good one. Standard Condition #1 is normally worded like this: “the defendant shall not leave the judicial district without the permission of the court or probation officer;” Simple, right? Sometimes, not so much. In States like California, the borders of the districts are weird. In New York, taking the subway from Manhattan to The Bronx or Queens means leaving the Southern District and traveling to the Eastern District. Fall asleep on a train? VIOLATION!
    Anyway, this amendment adds the word “knowingly” to the condition to absolve the subway sleepers and the California hikers from violating a condition of their probation if they didn’t INTEND to violate it. Problem solved.
  5. Answering Truthfully: This one has actually come up more than once with clients. Standard Condition #3 on most Judgment Orders states, “the defendant shall answer truthfully all inquiries by the probation officer and follow the instructions of the probation officer;” But what if the probation officer asks a question that an honest answer could be incriminating? Does the 5th Amendment right to remain silent protect a defendant? Yes, yes it does. It always has. However, many probation officers don’t know this. A defendant on federal probation CAN refuse to answer a question on 5th Amendment protection grounds without violating their probation, and now the guidelines acknowledge this and specify it. It also prevents a probation officer from claiming a defendant “didn’t follow directions” because of an invocation of the 5th Amendment protection against self incrimination.
  6. Residence and Employment: This section changes two things. First, for full-time employment, the Commission added that full-time employment means at least 30-hours a week. This is still able to be waived for education, disability, and other reasons at the discretion of the probation officer.Second, a change of employment or residence used to require a defendant to give 10-days notice to their probation officer prior to the change. But what happens in the event a supervised defendant gets fired? Laid off? Their house burns down??? There is now added language to require the notification of 10 days, or within 72 hours of becoming aware of the change.
  7. Visits by Probation Officer: Not much change here. The commission re-asserts that a probation officer may need to visit probationers at work or at home, sometimes without notification to ensure compliance. “The revision provides plain language notice to defendants and guidance to probation officers.”
  8. Association with Criminals: This is a big one, and is a big step backward. The condition that defendants refrain from “association” with persons who they know to be engaged in criminal activity or have been convicted of a felony. That word “association” gives some leeway. Conduct at work will often put a defendant into contact with co-workers who are known to be former felons. This amendment seems to comport with, but restrict the Soltero case below.“[C]onsistent with the fundamental presumption that “prohibited criminal acts require an element of mens rea,” Vega, 545 F.3d at 750, non-association conditions prohibit only knowing contact with persons that the supervisee knows to be felons. See id.; United States v. Soltero, 510 F.3d at 867 n. 9. We further limited the meaning of nonassociation conditions by emphasizing that “ ‘incidental contacts’ ․ do not constitute ‘association’․” Soltero, 510 F.3d at 866-67 (quoting Arciniega v. Freeman, 404 U.S. 4, 4-5 (1971) (per curiam)” U.S. v. King 09-50665 (9th Circuit 2010).
    Now the association clause changes “association” with “communicating or interacting”, but also adds the word “knowingly” into the condition to make it have a specific requirement that a defendant intended to communicate with the criminal or former felon. That way, if the pizza delivery guy is also a drug dealer, but he just delivered a pizza once to a defendant, that exchange wouldn’t violate the Association with Criminals Clause. However, when it comes to professional relationships, the coverage of “association” would seem to be gone.
  9. Arrested or Questioned by a Law Enforcement Officer: This amendment only changes which section the provision goes under and makes no changes to it.
  10. Firearms and Dangerous Weapons: This amendment, or the part that matters, defines what a “dangerous weapon” is. Some clients have complained that their probation officer has ordered them to get rid of a compound hunting bow or a cross-bow because it was considered a dangerous weapon. This amendment defines a dangerous weapon as “anything that was designed, or was modified for, the specific purpose of causing bodily injury or death to another person such as nunchakus (sic) or tasers.” Rest easy. Those compound bows and cross bows don’t seem to fall under this category, as they were designed for animal hunting, not people hunting.
  11. Acting as an Informant: Nothing new here, just a change in language to improve clarity.
  12. Duty to Notify of Risks Posed by the Defendant: This third-party risk notification requirement is usually a hurdle for most defendants in their quest for employment. Many probation officers mandate that defendants tell their employer about their criminal history. This can, and usually does, limit a defendant’s ability to obtain employment. This can spill out in other areas like e-commerce for self-employed defendants and is really sticky. The amendment gives the probation officer more authority when making a determination about this notification requirement, which sucks. This tends to manifest itself in ways that are very detrimental to a supervised defendant.
  13. Supporting Dependents: The change to this condition is minimal, but fixes some vagueness. Basically this will only be applied to the judgement orders of defendants who have dependents that need support. Right now, it’s applied to everybody and is enforced if it is needed to be.
  14. Alcohol; Controlled Substances; Frequenting Places Where Controlled Substances are Sold: Here’s some good news. These conditions have been deleted so that the “excessive use of alcohol” prohibition is now gone and will be replaced with a full prohibition if it is deemed need in specific cases. Controlled substances are already covered in mandatory conditions, and frequenting places where drugs are sold is covered in the “non-association” clause discussed above.
  15. Material Change in Economic Circumstances: In basic terms, this condition requires defendants to notify their probation officer if they get fired/laid-off from their job, or if they come into a lot of money like an inheritance. Since this only matters if the defendant has a fine or restitution outstanding, the Commission has clarified that this condition is not necessary for cases where no fines or restitution judgments exist.

That wraps up this year’s U.S.S.C. Guidelines Manual amendments for supervised release and probation terms. Some important changes, but nothing earth-shattering this year.