Monday, March 18th, 2024

Special conditions of supervised release must be based on an individualized assessment of the defendant and adequately explained.

In two recent decisions, the Second Circuit reiterated the requirements for imposing special conditions of supervised release: a sentencing court must undertake an “individualized assessment” of the defendant and “state on the record the reason for imposing” any special condition. The failure to do so is error.

In United States v. Alex Oliveras, No. 21-2954, — F.4th — (2d Cir. March 15, 2024), the Circuit vacated a special condition allowing the federal probation officer to conduct suspicionless searches of the defendant and his property.

The defendant argued, first, that this special condition violated the Fourth Amendment, and, second, that it was not adequately justified on the record.

The Circuit recognized that individuals on supervised release have a diminished expectation of privacy, and that probation officers have a legitimate need to fulfill their supervisory duties by conducting searches. At the same time, supervisees retain Fourth Amendment rights and conditions infringing a supervisee’s constitutional rights must be narrowly tailored and are subject to more “searching review.”

After extensive analysis of circuit decisions related to parole, probation, and supervised release searches, the Circuit concluded that, under the “special needs” doctrine, a condition permitting suspicionless searches of supervisees may be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. But the Circuit cautioned that “it does not follow that such a condition may be imposed as a routine matter.”

Here the district court failed to adequately justify the condition, leading the Circuit to vacate it. The district court imposed this special condition because the defendant was convicted of a drug offense. But this generalized reasoning ran afoul of the court’s duty to “conduct an individualized assessment.” Per the Circuit, it is not “permissible to have a presumption that a suspicionless search condition is warranted in every drug case unless a defendant can demonstrate otherwise. Indeed, it is not difficult to imagine individualized cases where, although a defendant was convicted of a drug offense, the nature of his involvement in that offense … would not support a finding that such a highly intrusive suspicionless search condition is reasonable.” The Circuit noted that its prior decisions had found search conditions permissible specifically because a probation officer could only search with “reasonable suspicion,” and there was no evidence that suspicionless searches were necessary in “the vast majority of cases.”

Next, in United States v. William Jimenez, No. 21-2954 (2d Cir. March 18, 2024), the Circuit vacated several special conditions of supervised release that were not adequately justified on the record. The Circuit recognized that sentencing courts have broad discretion to impose conditions of supervised release. But it emphasized the need for a district court to explain why any particular special condition is necessary. Here the district court had imposed several burdensome conditions—including a requirement that the defendant participate in “cognitive behavioral” treatment; that he complete 20 hours of community service per week while not employed; and a “broad” search condition—without sufficient justification. As a result, the Circuit vacated these special conditions.

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