July 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Special Conditions of Supervised Release Require Particularized Findings of Fact

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Martinez-Torres on Friday, July 31, 2015.

Belisario Dominguez Martinez-Torres pleaded guilty in New Mexico District Court in 2008 to possession with intent to distribute 50 kilograms or more of marijuana. He was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. The district court imposed special conditions of supervised release and subsequently modified those conditions. Later, the probation office filed a request to revoke supervised release, alleging Defendant violated a new special condition by failing to return to his residential reentry center. Defense counsel asked the court to fashion a sentence that would allow Defendant to meet his familial obligations, noting Defendant had not committed any crimes, was employed, and did not use alcohol or drugs. The district court imposed a sentence of two months’ imprisonment and two years of supervised release with seven special conditions, including three that became the subject of the appeal: (1) a restriction on the use or possession of alcohol or other substances, (2) sex offender evaluation and treatment based on a prior conviction, and (3) a prohibition on possession or viewing of any pornographic material.

Defendant objected only to the third condition in district court but on appeal argued all three were impermissible. The government conceded the first two restrictions were impermissible and the Tenth Circuit agreed. The Tenth Circuit considered the reasonableness of the third restriction after admonishing that if the parties had devoted more time at sentencing to issues beyond incarceration, these issues would not be before its docket as they are all too often. Addressing the issues at hand, the Tenth Circuit agreed with Defendant that the pornography restriction is not reasonably related to his history or other statutory factors. The Tenth Circuit noted that the district court’s sole expressed reason for the restriction was Defendant’s prior sexual offense, and stated that that was not enough to justify the restriction. The district court needed to make an individualized assessment of whether it was appropriate for Defendant. The Tenth Circuit analyzed other cases in which similar restrictions were imposed and determined that the lack of an individualized inquiry in Defendant’s case required reversal of the restriction.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the imposition of the three special conditions and remanded to the district court.

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