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West Virginia Court-Supervised Parole and Condition Barring Association with Spouse Upheld

West Virginia's Supreme Court has upheld a circuit court's authority to impose court-supervised parole, and affirmed a parole condition that barred a parolee's association with convicted felons – including her spouse.

On June 9, 2009, Karen Tanner pleaded guilty to state drug charges related to manufacturing methamphetamine with her husband.

Tanner posted bond pending sentencing, but returned to jail when she failed a drug test on July 10, 2009. She was later sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of one to five years in prison.

Tanner moved to have her sentence reduced because her father was terminally ill. The circuit court granted the motion, suspended the remainder of her sentence and placed her on home confinement at her parents' residence.

After six months, Tanner requested release from home confinement. The court granted the motion on December 9, 2010, releasing Tanner from home confinement and placing her on court-supervised parole for two years. One of the parole conditions prohibited her from associating with convicted felons, including her husband.

Tanner appealed the circuit court's order.

West Virginia's Supreme Court rejected Tanner's argument that the trial court lacked authority to impose court-supervised parole. Based on its interpretation of the relevant statutes, the Court expressly held "that, pursuant to the West Virginia Home Incarceration Act, specifically W.Va. Code § 62-11B-12(a) (2002) (Repl. Vol. 2010), a circuit court has the same authority as that possessed by the West Virginia Parole Board to release on parole a person who is serving a sentence of home confinement ordered by the circuit court."

The Supreme Court further wrote that "a circuit court has broad discretion to impose special conditions it deems necessary, so long as its actions are not 'unreasonable, capricious, or arbitrary.'" Based upon the facts in the case, and noting that Tanner's "criminal activity was carried out in concert with her husband," who had a lengthy criminal record, the Court affirmed the parole condition barring association with all convicted felons.

"[I]t was reasonable for the circuit court to determine that Ms. Tanner's best chance of successfully avoiding repeated criminal conduct would be for her to refrain from contact with her husband, a convicted felon, throughout the duration of her parole," the Supreme Court concluded. See: West Virginia v. Tanner, 229 W.Va. 138, 727 S.E.2d 814 (W.Va. 2012).

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Related legal case

West Virginia v. Tanner