Federal Supervised Release Conditions – Restrictions on Court Discretion

Federal Supervised Release Conditions

Federal supervision is oftentimes misunderstood. What conditions can a court impose and what conditions are too much? This post is intended to clear the fog a bit using a case from Kentucky. This interesting case was decided by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year. In part, the appeals court threw out a lifetime ban on smart phones.

No iPhone for life? Not unless you have a really good reason!

When it comes to federal supervised release and probation, District Courts have broad discretion in the limitations they can place on defendants.

However, this discretion is not unlimited and sentencing judges must have a valid explanation for why each limitation is imposed. Legally speaking, conditions of supervised release are reviewed by appellate panels for abuse of discretion.1 A sentencing court’s discretion is limited by three standards. Each special condition must:

  1. “[be] reasonably related to the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. §3553(a)”;
  2. “involves no greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary for the purposed set forth in § 3553(a)”; and
  3. “is consistent with any pertinent policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.”2

The 6th Circuit Sets Limits on District Courts

In United States v. Inman, the Sixth Circuit held that, even though Inman was a really bad guy, the district court judge went too far with special conditions and imposing a lifetime term of supervision. In plain English, each condition was a lifetime ban on something.

The district court judge set a number of conditions that no one asked for, or talked about at Mr. Inman’s sentencing hearing: he had to submit to mandatory drug testing; to notify the probation office if he is prescribed any medicine; to provide the probation office with all of his financial information; and he can never drink alcohol again, possess or use a device capable of creating pictures or video, or rent a storage facility or post office box.

On review, the appellate court reviewed for plain error. It had to determine if: the district court adequately stated in open court at the time of sentencing its rationale for mandating special conditions of supervised release and whether each condition of supervised release was reasonably related to the dual goals of probation, the rehabilitation of the defendant and the protection of the public.

The Kicker

Next comes the big test. Special supervised release conditions must:

“[I]nvolve[] no greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary to serve the goals of deterrence, protecting the public, and rehabilitating the defendant”3

What This All Means

In basic terms, these limitations mean that a district court judge cannot just impose whatever they please at a sentencing hearing in terms of special supervised release conditions. For a financial crime, requiring the defendant to turn over monthly financials may be imposed legally. However, imposing an alcohol ban on a defendant with no history of substance abuse usually cannot.

If you’d like PCR Consultants to take a look at your terms of supervision and help get rid of supervised release conditions that don’t meet these standards, please give us a call for a free consultation.

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  1. United States v. Heidebur, 417 F.3d 1002, 1007 (8th Cir. 2005) []
  2. United States v. Mark, 425 F.3d 505, 507 (8th Cir. 2005), citing 18 U.S.C. §3583; United States v. Boston, 494 F.3d 660, 667 (8th Cir. 2007). []
  3. 18 U.S.C. §3583(d)(1)-(2); United States v. Brogdon, 503 F.3d 555, 563 (6th Cir. 2007). Although this is a 6th Circuit case, most circuits have precedent that mirrors this standard. []

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