Thursday, February 1st, 2018

Plain Error Reversal of Supervised Release Condition re. Alcohol

Today the Second Circuit reversed a district court’s sentence imposing as a special condition of supervised release that the defendant refrain from using any alcohol whatsoever while on supervision. The summary order in United States v. Betts, No. 17-231-cr (Leval, Calabresi, Cabranes) (appeal from W.D.N.Y.) is available here.

The defendant in Betts was originally convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349. After release from prison, he pled guilty to a supervised release violation (pursuant to a plea agreement) for failing to notify his probation officer within 72 hours of arrest. The district court sentenced the defendant to ten months’ imprisonment and four months of supervised release. As a special condition of the supervised release, the court required that the defendant refrain from consuming any alcohol.

On plain error review, the Second Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion by imposing this special condition.  This condition, the panel concluded, was not “reasonably related” to either the defendant’s “underlying crime or his admitted violation.” Slip op. at 4.

Two aspects of this decision are notable. First, the government argued in its brief that the Second Circuit has not required that a supervised release condition be reasonably related to the violation or underlying conviction. Gov’t Br. at 19. Rather, the government argued, the condition needs to be reasonably related only to the goals of sentencing set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553. See id. at 19-20. The panel tacitly rejected this argument. Second, according to the government’s brief, the defendant had “a history of regular binge drinking for more than a decade” prior to entering prison. Id. at 22. Inasmuch as this claim is accurate, it did not spare the government from a reversal under the plain error standard where the special condition was not reasonably related to either the underlying conviction or the violation.

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