Terms and Length of Supervision
It can be difficult to find discussions at the appellate level of district court obligations when deciding how to impose length and conditions of supervised release. It can be harder still to force a discussion at all from a district court at sentencing to understand the thought process behind these decisions.
On October 18, 2012 the Seventh Circuit published this short opinion in the case of US v. Quinn No. 12-2260 (7th Cir. Oct. 18, 2012). Its short length is reprinted in its entirety below.
Quinn asked the judge to choose a ten-year term of supervised release. He submitted a forensic psychologist’s evaluation, which concluded that he has a lower than- normal risk of recidivism. He also submitted the testimony that two psychologists (Michael Seto and Richard Wollert) recently had presented to the Sentencing Commission regarding the recidivism rate for persons convicted of child-pornography offenses…. [But] the district judge did not discuss either the length of supervision or the terms that Quinn would be required to follow while under supervision.
The prosecutor has confessed error, and we agree with the prosecutor’s conclusion that a district judge must explain important decisions such as the one at issue here. On remand the judge should consider not only how Quinn’s arguments about recidivism affect the appropriate length of supervised release, but also the interaction between the length and the terms of supervised release. The more onerous the terms, the shorter the period should be. One term of Quinn’s supervised release prevents contact with most minors without advance approval. Quinn has a young child, whom he has never been accused of abusing. Putting the parent-child relationship under governmental supervision for long periods (under this judgment, until the son turns 18) requires strong justification.
Our research has turned up only a few decisions that discuss the relation between the terms and length of supervised release. The third circuit has observed that the more onerous the term, the greater the justification required — and that a term can become onerous because of its duration as well as its content…. Rules that allow public officials to regulate family life likewise call for special justification, and lifetime regulatory power is hard to support when the defendant has not been convicted of crimes against his family or other relatives. Other terms of Quinn’s supervised release also may require strong justification when extended for a lifetime.
Although district judges can reduce the length of supervised release, or modify its terms, at any time, 18 U.S.C. §3583(e) — an opportunity that may lead a judge to think that uncertainties at the time of sentencing should be resolved in favor of a long (but reducible) period — still this is a subject that requires an explicit decision by the judge after considering the defendant’s arguments. The judge also should consider the possibility of setting sunset dates for some of the more onerous terms, so that Quinn can regain more control of his own activities without needing a public official’s advance approval, while enough supervision remains to allow intervention should Quinn relapse.
Most notably in this decision, at least in this bloggers opinion, is the call1 for “sunset dates” on the more onerous terms of supervised release. Naturally, the longer a released inmate spends on supervision without incident, the less restrictive and intrusive the terms of release should be (considering the goal of supervision is re-integration back into the community.
Applause goes to the 7th Circuit for hitting this issue head-on and laying out very simple-to-understand guidance for district courts regarding the imposition of federal supervised release or probation.
Ending Supervised Release Early
Of course, there is no need to ever complete a full term of supervision, as seen in the last paragraph of the opinion above. Trouble is, though most people on federal supervision know that ending supervised release early can be done, most don’t know how and won’t pay a lawyer a ton of money to get it done. The cost can outweigh the benefit.
Fortunately, PCR Consultants (that’s us) have been helping people for the last 3 years accomplish this task on their own, at the fraction of the cost of an attorney doing it for you. All that is necessary is to represent yourself on paper and file a request like this to the supervising court.
- Written by Chief Judge Esterbrook for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals [↩]