Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Special Conditions on Supervised Release Reversed

US v. Worley:  Appellant David Worley received a 100-month sentence for his convictions for methamphetamine offenses. He challenged the length of the sentence as well as the special conditions imposed on his supervised release, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in imposing the conditions. The Fourth Circuit disagreed with respect to the 100 months of incarceration (within his advisory guidelines range), but it agreed that several of the special conditions should be reversed.

Worley’s presentence report recommended fifteen special conditions in this case, based upon two twelve-year-old state convictions for carnal knowledge of a child (committed when Worley was twenty-one).  In particular, three of the special conditions prohibited Worley from having unsupervised contact with children, residing with minor children without permission from a probation officer, and forming a romantic relationship with anyone who has physical custody of a child. In the intervening twelve years, Worley had started a family with three young children, and maintained his relationship with his family and girlfriend.  Worley did not explicitly object to the district court’s imposition of the special conditions at sentencing. 

The Fourth Circuit stated that it did not need to determine whether to use plain error review of the special conditions, or the more deferential standard, an abuse of discretion: the imposition of these three restrictive special conditions on Worley’s supervised release was plain error, and did not further the defendant’s rehabilitation. "Conditions that interfere with a defendant’s constitutional liberties, such as raising his child or associating with a loved one, must be adequately explained or else their imposition undermines the fairness and integrity of our judicial proceedings." The Fourth Circuit noted that, "[g]iven the severity of these restrictions in hindering Worley’s familial relations weighed against the lack of evidence that Worley currently poses a threat to children, the district court erred in imposing the conditions and this error requires a complete reversal with no remand." 

With respect to the remaining special conditions on Worley’s supervised release, the Fourth Circuit remanded them to the district court, as "they impose restrictions that do well beyond Worley’s state sex offender registration requirements," but they did not infringe on his relationship with his children and girlfriend. In imposing these conditions, the district court had only relied on Worley’s prior state sex offense convictions, and the record according to the Fourth Circuit, did not support the conclusion that Worley’s current behavior and character required them.

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