Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Circuit to Probation: Three’s a Crowd

United States v. Reeves, No. 08-2966-cr (2d Cir. January 7, 2010) (Leval, Pooler, Parker, CJJ)

Lamont Reeves pled guilty to possessing child pornography. As a condition of his supervised release the district court required that he “notify the Probation Department when he establishes a significant romantic relationship and … inform the other party of his prior criminal history concerning his sex offenses.” It also required that Reeves provide his probation officer with his “significant other’s” contact information.

The court of appeals vacated the condition. First, it agreed that the condition was too vague to be enforceable. “What makes a relationship ‘romantic,’ let alone “significant” in its romantic depth, can be the subject of endless debate that varies across generations, regions and genders.” The condition had “no objective baseline” that would give anyone guidance as to what might constitute a “significant romantic relationship” and Reeves’ continued freedom during supervised release should not hinge on “the accuracy of his prediction of whether [someone else] would conclude that a relationship was significant or romantic.”

In addition, the condition was not reasonably related to the statutory objectives of supervised release: to further Reeves’ rehabilitation and protect the public. There was nothing in Reeves’ history that would suggest he posed a risk to those with whom he might have a “significant romantic relationship.” Nor would the notification promote his rehabilitation. Rather, since it would likely result in the premature end to any relationship he might develop, it was likely to place him at risk of social isolation. This would impair, rather than enhance, his rehabilitation.

Finally, the court found that the condition constituted an unnecessary deprivation of Reeves’ liberty. The court noted that the right to maintain intimate personal relationships is well established, and can only be interfered with by a supervision condition that is “narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest.” The only interest identified by the government here was to protect a romantic partner’s children. The court agreed that this could be a compelling interest, but the condition here makes no mention of children. It covers any significant romantic relationship, even those that would not bring Reeves into contact with children.

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