Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fives Reject Supervised Release Condition Prohibiting Defendant From Living With Anyone Other Than a Spouse or Blood Relative

United States v. Woods, No. 07-51491 (5th Cir. Oct. 28, 2008) (per curiam) (King, Higginbotham, Wiener)

Woods was convicted of crack and retaliation offenses. In addition to a prison sentence, the district court also imposed a five-year term of supervised release. The conditions of supervised release included a prohibition on associating with felons, criminals, and several specific individuals who were involved in Woods's criminal activity. Additionally, a "residency condition" prohibited Woods "from residing 'with anyone that [she is] not ceremonially married to or related to by blood during the term of [her] supervised release[.]'" The district court "justified the residency condition on the ground that Woods needs stability in her home[,]" citing "a number of destabilizing factors in Woods’s life that ostensibly led to her criminal behavior[.]"

Woods challenged the residency condition on appeal. Finding the condition a greater deprivation of liberty than is necessary to meet the statutory goals of supervised release, the court of appeals vacated the condition as an abuse of discretion.

Supervised release necessarily involves some deprivation of liberty, and "courts of appeals have affirmed discretionary conditions restricting a defendant’s intimate associations where the district court appropriately defined the prohibited association and articulated a direct connection between the condition and a sentencing goal." But "the few courts to consider a supervised release condition that broadly restricts the defendant’s right to reside with classes of people (as distinguished from individuals or groups with whom the defendant has a relevant history) have concluded that it violated the defendant’s rights."

Such was the case here. Although "the district court may impose limitations on a convict’s living arrangements to ensure that she avoids recidivism[,]" the residency restriction here was greater than necessary. The restriction forbade her from living with "potentially stabilizing individuals such as a close friend or a permanent roommate who could help her to bear the costs of her living arrangements and to care for her children." There were also less intrusive alternatives available, such as the other restrictions the district court imposed on associating with criminals, and the fact that the probation officer could petition the court for modification of the terms of release in response to particular concerns that may arise in the future. The blanket residency restriction was therefore an abuse of discretion.

Although the court of appeals vacated the residency restriction, the scope of the remand permits the district court "to fashion an alternative supervised release condition, if it chooses, not inconsistent with this opinion."



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