Conditions of Supervised Release

The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 replaced parole for federal crimes with supervised release.

Parole of federal convicts was granted by an administrative agency after a convicted defendant began serving his sentence. An inmate granted parole was released from prison before the expiration of his term, but became subject to restrictions imposed by the agency on his conduct between his release and when, had he not been paroled, he would have been released at the expiration of his prison sentence. The restrictions were intended to reduce the likelihood of his committing crimes in the future.

Supervised release, in contrast to parole, consists of restrictions, imposed by the judge at sentencing, called conditions or terms of supervised release, that are to take effect when the defendant is released from prison and continue for a specified term of years or even life.

Parole shortened prison time, substituting restrictions on the freed prisoner.

Supervised release does not shorten prison time; instead it imposes restrictions on the prisoner to take effect upon his release from prison.

Parole mitigated punishment; supervised release augments it—most dramatically when the defendant, having been determined to have violated a condition or conditions of supervised release, is given, as punishment, more imprisonment.

Supervised release is required by statute in fewer than half of cases subject to the sentencing guidelines. In the other cases the sentencing judge has discretion to order or not order it, but almost always the judge orders it in those cases, too.

The primary purpose of supervised release is to facilitate the reentry of offenders into their communities, rather than to inflict punishment.

Districts Courts, at sentencing, are required to explain how conditions of supervised release are reasonably related to the defendant’s offense and background or to the goals of punishment, involving no greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary to achieve these goals. A sentencing judge cannot properly decide what sentence to impose without consideration of the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a). If upon consideration of these factors the Judge decides that he’s leaning toward imposing particular conditions, he should inform the parties of the conditions and the possible reasons for imposing them, so that they can develop arguments pro or con to present at the sentencing hearing.

A better practice for the presentence report would be to give reasons for any conditions of supervised release that it suggests. An alternative would be for the judge to explain at the sentencing hearing what conditions he was inclined to impose and why, and ask the defendant’s lawyer whether he objects to any of them; if the lawyer had a reasonable need for more time to decide whether he has grounds for objection, the judge could adjourn the hearing.

In United States of America v. Thompson, et al, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court because of the failure to tie the conditions of supervised release that were related to the defendant’s conduct and condition that would facilitate re-entry of the offenders into their community

Case decided January 13th, 2015.
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