Federal Supervised Release Conditions – Restrictions on Court Discretion

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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, or plain error. 1If the conditions were objected to by defense counsel with the sentencing Court, conditions imposed by the court are reviewed for abuse of discretion. If no objections occurred, the stricter “plain error” review is used which determines if the lower-court judge was clearly erroneous with the decision. See United States v. Heidebur, 417 F.3d 1002, 1007 (8th Cir. 2005) A sentencing court’s discretion on imposing conditions of supervision is limited in three ways. Each condition must:

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

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 sentencing judge imposed several conditions that nobody asked for, or even talked about at 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, nor could he possess or use a device capable of creating pictures or video. Finally, Inman was prevented from renting a storage facility or post office box.

The Sixth Circuit reviewed for plain error because defense counsel didn’t object to these conditions at sentencing. This required the 3-judge panel to determine if:

  1. the district court adequately stated in open court at the time of sentencing its rationale for mandating special conditions of supervised release; and,
  2. 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” 3see 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.

18 U.S.C. §3583(d)(1)-(2)

What This All Means

In basic terms, these limitations mean that a sentencing judge cannot simply impose whatever special conditions they please. For a financial crime, requiring the defendant to turn over monthly financials may be relevant. 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, contact us for a free consultation.

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References

References
1 If the conditions were objected to by defense counsel with the sentencing Court, conditions imposed by the court are reviewed for abuse of discretion. If no objections occurred, the stricter “plain error” review is used which determines if the lower-court judge was clearly erroneous with the decision. See United States v. Heidebur, 417 F.3d 1002, 1007 (8th Cir. 2005)
2 See 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 see 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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