July 20, 2018

Tenth Circuit: Complete Prohibition on Internet Access Constitutes Greater Deprivation of Liberty than Reasonably Necessary

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Ullmann on Tuesday, June 9, 2015.

Ronald Ullmann pleaded guilty to making a false statement, arising from a sexually explicit online conversation he had with an undercover FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old. He served a 60-month prison term and began his three years of supervised release. Ullmann contended that the district court’s imposition of a special condition restricting his use of the internet and a panoply of electronic devices impose a greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary.

The Tenth Circuit noted that its prior precedent suggested that a complete prohibition on internet access would constitute a greater deprivation of liberty than reasonably necessary, and in the decade since the two precedential cases were decided the internet has become an even more indispensable tool of everyday life. The Tenth Circuit found the probation office’s restriction as written to be unreasonable, but because in this case the district court orally modified the condition to be not a blanket prohibition but rather a restriction, there was no error. The Tenth Circuit cautioned the probation office that adjudicating further appeals based on the prohibitive language would not be a valuable use of its judicial resources.

Ullmann also argued the modified condition is inconsistent with the Sentencing Guidelines, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed because the condition restricts rather than prohibits Ullmann’s internet use. Ullmann further contended the modified condition unconstitutionally delegated authority to perform a judicial function to the probation office. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding a district court’s oral delegation to a probation officer controls over the written conditions of probation imposed by the probation office. The district court exercised its authority at the sentencing hearing when it clarified that Ullmann would only have to comply with the written restrictions related to internet-capable devices.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind

*