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Federal Court Must Give Reasons for Special Conditions of Supervised Release

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s imposition of four special conditions of supervised release, due to the court’s failure to explain its reasons for imposing them.

Rashan R. Doyle was convicted in New York of attempted sexual abuse in the first degree; as a result of that qualifying felony conviction, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act required him to register as a sex offender. When Doyle moved to Tennessee, however, he failed to register.

Doyle pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to register as a sex offender in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2250(a). A federal district court in Tennessee sentenced him to 37 months in prison followed by ten years of supervised release, plus a $3,000 fine.

The term of supervised release included four special conditions that prohibited Doyle from possessing any pornography, even legal pornography; having direct or indirect contact with any child under eighteen, including loitering near school yards, playgrounds, swimming pools, arcades or other places frequented by children; using sexually-oriented telephone or computer-based services; and possessing or using a computer with access to any “on-line service” or other forms of wireless communication without the approval of his probation officer.

Because Doyle did not object to the special conditions at sentencing, the Sixth Circuit analyzed them under the plain-error standard. The appellate court held that “a district court errs if it fails, at the time of sentencing, to state in open court its rationale for mandating a special condition of supervised release.” In this case, the district court had erred procedurally because it failed to explain its reasoning for the special conditions at issue; the Court of Appeals found the error was clear because the record did not show why the conditions were imposed.

Further, the district court’s failure to explain its rationale for the special conditions “may have had a substantial influence on the outcome of the proceedings.” The Sixth Circuit wrote, “there is a reasonable probability that the court may not have imposed the special conditions if it had fulfilled its obligations to explain the basis for the conditions or at least made sure the record illuminated the basis for the conditions.” Finally, as the special conditions were “likely more severe than the ones the district court would have imposed had it fulfilled its obligation to explain its reasoning,” the error was not harmless and affected the fairness, integrity or public reputation of the proceedings.

The four special conditions of Doyle’s supervised release were vacated and the case remanded for resentencing. The district court was reminded that if it does impose special conditions, they “‘must be tailored to the specific case before the court.’” The Sixth Circuit noted that it did not see how some of the special conditions related to the nature and circumstance of Doyle’s offense of failure to register; the one exception was contact with children or being in places where children congregate, but that provision should not apply to Doyle’s own children. See: United States v. Doyle, 711 F.3d 729 (6th Cir. 2013).

Following remand, Doyle was resentenced on August 30, 2013 to 37 months in prison and five years of supervised release, plus a $3,000 fine.

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