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Seventh Circuit: Lifetime Supervision in Pornography Case Set Aside

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a “supervision for life” provision imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin when defendant Nicolai D. Quinn was sentenced to 97 months imprisonment for possession of child pornography.

Both the Sentencing Guidelines and statute under which Quinn was convicted provided for the possibility of lifetime supervision. However, while his sentence was within the guidelines range and thus presumptively reasonable under Rita v. United States, 551 U.S. 338 (2007), the Court of Appeals noted that the district court still had an obligation to “consider a defendant’s serious arguments for a sentence below the Sentencing Commission’s recommendation.”

Quinn had argued for a 10-year term of supervised release and submitted a forensic psychologist’s evaluation as well as testimony from two psychologists, all of whom concluded “that he has a lower-than-normal risk of recidivism.” Although the sentencing judge briefly discussed the forensic psychologist’s findings, he did not discuss the testimony of the two psychologists, nor the length of supervision or its term.

The government confessed error and the Seventh Circuit agreed, noting that “a district judge must explain important decisions,” including “arguments about recidivism” and “the interaction between the length and the terms of supervised release.” The appellate court observed that Quinn “has a young child, whom he has never been accused of abusing,” and who would have been barred from seeing Quinn without advance approval under the district court’s sentencing order.

Finally, the Court of Appeals wrote that “Rules that allow public officials to regulate family life likewise call for special justification, and lifetime regulatory power is hard to support when the defendant has not been convicted of crimes against his family or other relatives. Other terms of Quinn’s supervised release also may require strong justification when extended for a lifetime.” The appellate court noted that the “more onerous the term, the greater the justification required.”

Quinn’s term of supervised release was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing as to the period of supervised release only. See: United States v. Quinn, 698 F.3d 651 (7th Cir. 2012).

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