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Fourth Circuit Vacates Pornography Restriction on Federal Defendant

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has vacated a set of supervised release conditions that prohibited a defendant from possessing pornography, entering places where pornography could be obtained, having contact with children and requiring that the defendant undergo numerous sex offender tests.

Dwight Armel was found guilty of making threats to the FBI. Armel was sentenced to thirty months in prison, and ordered to serve three years of supervised release. The U.S. District Court in Virginia imposed the pornography and sex offender-related restrictions as special conditions of supervised release without explanation. Armel appealed, arguing that the pornography and sex offender restrictions were improper.

While district courts are granted “broad latitude to impose conditions on supervised release,” the Fourth Circuit wrote, “the court must explain the rationale for the special conditions it imposes.” In Armel’s case, the district court “offered no explanation as to their necessity in Armel’s case,” the appellate court stated.

The pornography restriction, for instance, was “particularly inexplicable” given Armel’s case “was not sex-related” and a number of other circuits had found such conditions to be improper, even in sex cases.

The judgment of the district court was accordingly vacated, and the matter was remanded for resentencing. See: United States v. Armel, 585 F.3d 182 (4th Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

United States v. Armel