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.

Federal Supervised Release is not Punishment

The Seventh Circuit on Federal Supervised Release

A few years ago, the Seventh Circuit published an order clearly showing their views on the imposition and purpose of federal supervised release. That circuit is back at it again with an opinion regarding three separate cases, challenging their supervised release conditions.1  Thanks to the Federal Criminal Appeals Blog for the head’s-up on this one.

There are some key points made by this ruling that anybody interested in the nuts-and-bolts of federal supervised release should be aware of. If you are on supervised release, or interested in the subject at all, the entire opinion is a must read.

The Purpose of Supervised Release

To start off with, the Circuit posted a history and usage overview of supervised release. The most interesting part of this section of the order is below:

“The purposes of supervised release have been variously described as rehabilitation, deterrence, training and treatment, protection of the public, and reduction of recidivism.”2(Citations omitted and footnoted)

The real meat of this point is clarified a little later.

“Supervised release was not intended to be imposed for the purposes of punishment or incapacitation, “since those purposes will have been served to the extent necessary by the term of imprisonment.”3…see also 18 U.S.C. § 3583(c) (directing a court contemplating the imposition of supervised release to consider most sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), except the need for the sentence to provide just punishment for the offense). The Supreme Court has described supervised release as “the decompression stage” between prison and full release.”4 (Citations omitted and footnoted))

What this says is simple. The goals of supervised release are not to further punish the defendant, since that is what incarceration is for. The factors courts must consider when contemplating a term of federal supervised release all almost the same as the one’s they consider when imposing prison time. The only difference is that court’s cannot consider the need for supervised release to provide just punishment for the offense.

The Meaning Behind the Purpose

Let us look at this from the perspective of one who wishes to gain early release from federal supervised release. If, 1) the purpose of supervised release is not to inflict more punishment for the underlying crime; and 2) the “decompression state” between prison and full release is accomplished, then there is no reason to keep a defendant on supervision any longer.

The trick is proving that this decompression stage is over. From lots of prior 7th Circuit decisions, we have these factors that mark this decompression and satisfy that requirement. From the first quoted section, these five purposes of supervision are:

  1. Rehabilitation: have you completed all treatment and aftercare?
  2. Deterrence: are you effectively deterred from committing future federal crimes?
  3. Training and Treatment: do you have enough treatment and education to stay clean from crime and to keep stable employment? Stability of home and job is a key indicator to judges that you pose a low risk to commit new crimes. Sometimes it just matters how busy you are. Job? Kids? Wife/Husband? All these keep a person busy, and no idle time means no time to devote to criminal behavior. “Idle hands are the Devils’ playground” and all…
  4. Protection of the public: Again, this lends to treatment, stability, and reduced risk of committing new crimes.
  5. Reduction of recidivism: At this point it gets redundant, but explicit. What is your quantifiable risk to commit new crimes. If you have zero criminal history, this part is easy!

That’s All For Now

So far, we’ve only viewed about 6 pages of this 68-page opinion. However, this is plenty to digest for now. If you’re looking to get early release from federal probation or federal supervised release, consider the purpose of supervision and ask yourself if you’re finished with its intended goals. If so, you could be a prime candidate!

  1. U.S. vs. Kappes, U.S. vs. Crisp, and U.S. vs. Jurgens; Nos. 14-1223, 14-2135, & 14-2482 respectively and decided April 8, 2015. []
  2. United States v. Johnson, 529 U.S. 53, 59-60 (2000); United States v. Siegel, 753 F.3d 705, 708 (7th Cir. 2014); United States v. Evans, 727 F.3d 730, 733 (7th Cir. 2013) []
  3. S. Rep. No.98-225, at 125; see also Johnson, 529 U.S. 59 (“Supervised release fulfills rehabilitative ends, distinct from those served by incarceration.”) []
  4. Johnson v. United States, 529 U.S. 694, 709 (2000). []

How Often Does Your Federal Probation Officer Visit?

How often your federal probation officer visits is an important question for all persons under the supervision of the United States Probation Office (USPO). This small piece of information is very helpful when considering a request for early release from federal probation (or federal supervised release).1

Levels of Supervision

Each federal district has a large amount of discretion over local USPO policy. For this reason, the treatment of probationers and supervisees can vary widely. However, because of the policy set forth in Monograph 109 (available here), much of how those under federal supervision are treated remains similar everywhere.

Generally, when an inmate of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is released from custody, that inmate goes to a halfway house. Once their time in the halfway house is finished, a term of supervised release begins. Initially the level of supervision on the outset is the highest it will be for the supervisee. This includes residential visits from the PO to approve housing, and a visit or two to the supervisee’s job site to verify employment.

Monthly in-person visits from a PO are common in the first months of supervision. After a year or so (maybe even sooner) those visits become more infrequent. This signifies a change in “Supervision Intensity” or some such phrase as used by the local USPO. A supervisee will rarely hear of the internal policy or paperwork involved in the levels of supervision, but the intensity by which the supervision occurs can be easily observed.

Different districts have different names and levels of supervision, but this observation is important! Read on to find out why…

Why You Should Care

There are a lot of reasons to want to get off of federal supervision as fast as possible, and those will be covered in a later post. How often you see your probation officer is discussed above and illuminates information that is important to this cause. Why, you ask?

This descending intensity of supervision is an indicator that the USPO is less interested in a supervisee. Less interest means they believe that there is less of a threat to society posed by the supervisee. That means the USPO is much less likely to stand in the way of a bid to get off of supervision early. If the USPO isn’t standing in the way, the judge is much more likely to grant the request.

This is a great thing! Paying attention to the amount of attention you are getting from your federal probation officer makes you better informed for your request for early termination. Early termination is freedom, and freedom is priceless!

  1. There is little difference between federal supervised release and federal probation. In short, if a federal defendant is sentenced to prison, they will enter a term of supervised release upon completion of that sentence. Conversely, if the defendant was sentenced to no prison time, they will be considered on probation. The supervising officers are the same for both and there is almost no difference, legally, between the two. []

Hilarity in a Federal Probation Revocation Hearing

“After violating the terms of his supervised release, Appellant was sentenced to prison and an additional period of supervised release, including special conditions. The Fifth Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion by imposing the special condition without demonstrating that the condition was reasonably related to statutory factors.”

The above quote comes from a federal probation revocation hearing, published online over at the Federal Criminal Appeals Blog, and is part of a larger (sometimes humorous) story of a man named Sammy Salazar (US v. Salazar, 5th Cir 2014). Mr. Salazar was serving a 10-year suspended sentence for third degree sexual abuse when he failed to register as a sex offender and earned himself a new felony.

Time served, plus fifteen (15) years of supervised release with a bunch of special conditions on his supervision. He appealed those special conditions and got a bunch removed.1

Later, Mr. Salazar assaulted somebody in his family2 and got his supervision revoked: prison for 12 months and 14 years of supervision.  Again along with a bunch of special conditions of supervision.

Defense attorney objected, and led to the funniest written exchange between judge and lawyer I’ve seen in a long time:

Judge : Counsel, I’m aware that this is what went up on appeal because they weren’t written at the time of the sentence. This is not the original sentence. This is a new sentence on revocation. I am adding these conditions. I may do so under the terms of the supervised release and a revocation. So these are additional conditions that I am imposing on the revocation.

Saad: Then Your Honor, we would object and make a new objection that they’re overly burdensome and …

Jude: Overruled, counselor.

Saad: …and…

Judge: Overruled.

Saad: Thank you, Your Honor.

Judge: Overruled.

The defense attorney pissed the judge off to the point where defense’s GRATITUDE was overruled. Well done counselor.

  1. Removal of these special conditions wasn’t because Salazar didn’t need them, or deserve them, it was simply because the judge ordered only a few of these special conditions out loud in court. The rest of the conditions were snuck in outside of oral orders and were thrown out by the Appeals Court. []
  2. without a doubt, Mr. Salazar isn’t a man I want to get to know. Most times, important decisions are made and important precedents are set because of very unlikeable characters such as Salazar []

Ending Federal Probation in the Age of Sequestration

Update: 4/21/14

It seems as though Sequestration changed the way many probation departments handled early release requests. For most of Summer/Fall 2013, probation officers were ending federal probation early for their supervisees on their own request. However, it seems that this trend is waning and there is a heightened need for do-it-yourself motions. E-mail us or give us a call to find out how to do this!

Ending Federal Probation Early – The New Game

The topic of the federal budget sequestration hasn’t arisen much in the news much since early Spring. However, it is important to know that these distasteful budget cuts are still in effect, and will seemingly remain in effect for the near future.

In a time where government budgets are stretched, nowhere is this more apparent than in the federal justice system. Dated August 13, 2013 a letter was sent to congress signed by 87 Chief District Judges that dealt specifically with the budget cuts the Sequestration has made to the federal judiciary.

Here’s the most interesting part for those seeking federal probation termination:

“As a result of sequestration, funding allocations sent out to court units were cut 10 percent below the fiscal year 2012 level. Clerks of court and probation and pretrial services offices will downsize by as many as 1,000 staff during fiscal year 2013 due to this reduction in funding. Staffing in these same offices has been reduced by nearly 2,100 staff between July 2011 and July 2013, representing a 10 percent staffing loss to the Judiciary over this two-year period. Our current staffing level is the lowest it has been since 1999 despite significant workload growth during this same period of time. In addition to downsizing, the courts have already incurred 4,500 furlough days as of June 2013, and an additional, 4,100 furlough days are projected by the end of the fiscal year.”

. . . and later:

“Funding cuts to the Judiciary have also put public safety at risk. The Judiciary employs nearly 6,000 law enforcement officers—probation and pretrial services officers—to supervise individuals in the community after they have been convicted of a crime and subsequently released from prison, as well as defendants awaiting trial. The number of convicted offenders under the supervision of federal probation officers hit a record 187,311 in 2012 and is on pace to reach 191,000 by 2014. At a time when the workload in our probation and pretrial offices continues to grow, budget cuts have reduced funding allocations to these offices by 10 percent. Staffing in probation and pretrial services offices is down nearly 600 (7 percent) since 2011.”

Hit ‘Em Where it Hurts

No matter the political leaning of a specific judge, the fact that 87 out of 94, or 92.5%, Chief judges signed this letter1 shows that budget problems have their attention.

The one place judges can agree, and where a probationer (or those on federal supervised release) can focus on, is the Court’s pocketbook. Want to hit ’em where it hurts? Try the wallet.

 

PCR Consultant’s Probation Termination service

This, like many other current issues that affect the federal courts, is used to its maximum effectiveness in each of our client’s services. When the goal is ending federal probation early, using as many arguments like this as possible only helps. If you want to get started on the road to terminating federal supervised release early, click here.

  1. When, as federal district judge Richard G. Kopf (NE) said in this article about the letter “As a former Chief District Judge, I know that you can almost never get 87 Chief District Judges to agree about when the sun comes up. The fact that 87 of them wrote the foregoing letter to Congress ought to make clear that the federal district courts are inches away from disaster. Congress is on the brink of intentionally wrecking the federal trial courts. Will sanity prevail?” []

What Happens After Federal Prison

Pre-Release

After federal prison, an inmate is either sent to a federal half-way house, or placed directly on Supervised Release (Federal Probation is reserved for those who never received a prison sentence). An inmate, while in the halfway house, is still under the custody of the federal Bureau of Prisons and can therefore be subject to release or relief in the same way they were while incarcerated (see Incarceration). Anything from home-confinement to early release is possible from a half-way house. PCR Consultants can help.

Post-Release, and Supervised Release

After full release from the BOP into the hands of the local United States Probation Office, a former federal inmate has years of probation((called Supervised Release)) to deal with. Supervised release comes with a host of general and specific rules that must be followed, or the supervisee faces more prison time. However, PCR Consultants can help you here too. From changing the terms of your release to better suit you to ending probation altogether, you can affect your own future and we can show you how.

Whether you need to modify (change or eliminate) a term of Supervised Release from your J & C Order, or motion to be released from Supervision altogether, PCR Consultants can put the right law and paperwork in your hands for a FRACTION of the cost of an attorney.

When on federal probation or supervised release (after federal prison time is served), the specific rules applied to each individual are unique. Most of the time these rules are lengthy and confusing so violations can occur accidentally by the probationer. Learn how to live on probation, how to be successful on probation, and how to structure actions to obtain your release sooner from supervision.

Get started today and be on your way to early termination in minutes!

Learn About Us

For ways to contact us, visit our contact us page for contact form and e-mail addresses.

Learn about us and how our services work on our about page.

Clear Views on Supervised Release from the Seventh Circuit

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.

Take Aways

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.

Learn more by reading our e-book. Start the process of ending your supervision now by contacting us by e-mail or phone (or our contact submission form) today.

  1. Written by Chief Judge Esterbrook for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals []

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.

Let Us Help You!

Call us at (480) 382-9287 for a free consultation to find out how we can help.

For more ways to contact us, visit our contact us page for contact form and e-mail addresses.

Learn about us and how our services work on our about page.

  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. []

Supervised Release Termination Testimonials

Client Satisfaction at its Best

Supervised release termination, or early termination of federal probation, as a major part of what we do here at PCR Consultants. It is important for present and future clients to hear from the ones that came before them. Here is what one client had to say:

“I am extremely happy to tell you that the court has granted [my] motion for termination of supervised release!!! I can’t tell you how happy and grateful I am to you and your team! You did a brilliant job and I am happy to refer you to anyone I know that might need your services.”
– Ben

Ben’s supervised release termination ended 18-months before its natural expiration. His last name and case number have been withheld per his request.

Handling Supervised Release Termination

There is a big landscape of federal law and court decisions that guide judges when making decisions on whether or not to grant a defendant’s request to gain early release from federal supervision. Policy set forth by the US Sentencing Commission adds flavor to Title 18 of the United States Code, which tells judges what they must consider when a request like this comes to their desk.

Then there are studies, papers, data, and re-offense concerns that factor in. Using all these factors, plus a few items from our proprietary “Trick Bag”, PCR Consultants enjoys a very high success rate with clients seeking early termination of their supervised release or probation.

Our Services Work!

Follow the links below for judicial orders in favor of some our successful supervised release termination clients.

Supervision terminated within a week of request! (May 2014)

Supervised Release ended before two full years were served.

Supervised Release cut immediately.

Supervised Release ended over two years early, before half of the term was served!
(Client names redacted to protect privacy)

November Round-Up

From Crack Cocaine Sentence Reductions to Early Termination of Supervised Release

November has been a big month in the world of federal corrections. Due to all the recent events, this will be a lengthy post on all matters federal-criminal.

New Retroactive Crack Law

The United States Sentencing Commission’s 2011 Amendments to their Guidelines Manual were enacted on November 1st. In these amendments, the Sentencing Commission made the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 retroactive in sentence reductions.

Inmates may now petition their sentencing courts to reduce their Crack Cocaine sentences if sentenced before August 3, 2010. There are too many details about this to effectively discuss in this singular article, but here are the highlights:

  1. Sentences must be for 21 U.S.C. §841 or §846
    • §841 (1) to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance; or (2) to create, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to distribute or dispense, a counterfeit substance.
    • §846 Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this subchapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.
  2. Sentencing must be issued under the drug quantity table of the Guidelines Manual
  3. In most Circuit Courts, commission of stated crime must have occurred after August 3, 2010 instead of just the sentencing occurring after this date.
    Exceptions are discussed in this prior post.

Federal Probation Early Termination (Supervised Release Too!)

Judges are now being told to cut people loose from federal supervised release and probation. Another amendment to the USSC Guidelines Manual specifically tells federal judges to consider early termination for anybody who is in their final phase of supervision.

In basic terms, if a supervisee is done with treatment, community service, or any other requirement of probation that has an expiration, that person is eligible for early release. If all that is left on supervision is simply monitoring for violations, you have a good chance of getting free. More on this subject on our Federal Probation Termination page.

Supreme Court Round-Up

The United States Supreme Court is collecting cases to hear on November 22, 2011 regarding application of Fair Sentencing Act reductions to “pipeline” cases (see exceptions, above). Davis and Hill are two of the cases regarding this issue that the Supreme Court needs to decide on in order to rectify a Circuit split. The 1st, 3rd, and 11th Circuits apply FSA to all cases sentenced after 8/3/10. The 7th Circuit applies the reduction to cases where the actual crime was committed after that date. All other Circuits are currently mute on the subject.

Also on the docket is the issue of juveniles receiving Life Without Parole sentences. Originally discussed back in 2010 on Sentencing Law and Policy, the Supreme Court is now taking another look at the constitutionality of sentencing kids to die in prison.

Below we’ve summarized the rest of what the Supreme Court has done so far this year:

1. A unanimous AEDPA ruling for the state: “The first opinion of the Term is in Greene v. Fisher. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for a unanimous Court, which held that for purposes of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, ‘clearly established federal law’ is limited to the Supreme Court’s decisions ‘as of the time of the relevant state-court adjudication on the merits.’”

2. A hint during oral argument in US v. Jones (transcript here) that GPS tracking might require a warrant: “Midway through a federal government lawyer’s plea Tuesday for unrestricted power for police to use new GPS technology to track cars and trucks on public roads, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., sketched out just how the Court may well restrict the practice. Despite an unqualified prior statement by the Court that one moving about in public has absolutely no right to expect privacy, the Chief Justice said that such a right might exist, after all, and it could trump the fact that the movement was in public. If the Court can find a way to say just that, police almost certainly would have to get a warrant before using GPS to monitor where suspects go.”

3. A suggestion during oral argument in Smith v. Cain (transcript here) that SCOTUS that sometimes prosecutors should stop defending hinky convictions: “There may be many ways for a lawyer to realize that an argument before the Supreme Court is falling flat, but none can top this: a Justice asking if the counsel had ever considered simply forfeiting the case. That is what happened on Tuesday to Donna R. Andrieu, an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, as her argument lay all about her, in shambles.”

Federal Inmate-Related Bills In Congress

This isn’t specific to November, but many inmates and families of inmates are hungry for knowledge of what Congress will do next to give relief to federal inmates. Here’s a short list of bills currently proposed for this session:

  • H.R. 2316, the Fair Sentencing Clarification Act retroactively applies the sentence reductions included in last year’s Fair Sentencing Act (FSA). This means that inmates rendered ineligible for reductions because of preexisting mandatory minimum sentences would now benefit from FSA.((Read the 2014 version of the bill here)
  • H.R. 2242, Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2011 eliminates any disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences. Its not retroactive, but makes the ratio that FSA brought from 100:1 to 18:1, down to 1:1.
  • H.R. 2344, the Prisoner Incentive Act of 2011 rewrites the good time statute to make clear that a prisoner is eligible to earn up to 54 days of good time credit per year for each year of the prisoner’s sentence. Since 1988, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has interpreted the good time statute to award good time credit based on the time actually served by the prisoner, not the sentence imposed by the judge. As a result, prisoners only earn a maximum of 47 days of good time for each year to which they are sentenced, instead of the 54 days per year many believed Congress intended.
  • H.R. 223, the Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2011 directs the Bureau of Prisons to release individuals from prison who have served 50 percent or more of their sentence if that prisoner: (1) is 45 years of age or older; (2) has never been convicted of a crime of violence; and (3) has not engaged in any violation, involving violent conduct, of institutional disciplinary regulations. The bill is intended to reduce overcrowding in federal prisons and give those nonviolent offenders over the age of 45 a second chance.

For more information on bills currently in Congress, visit the FAMM page regarding the subject.

As the holidays approach, hope can either strengthen or wane. PCR Consultants wishes all the best to the people it serves: Defendants, Inmates, Released Offenders, and their families. For more information on any subject here, give us a call at (480) 382-9287.