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Special Supervised Release Conditions Require Sufficient Findings

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held on June 19, 2015 that an Iowa federal district court had abused its discretion in imposing a special condition of supervised release related to alcohol use.

Before the appellate court was the appeal of Dennis Brown, Jr., who pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. As part of his 57-month sentence, the district court had recommended his participation in the Bureau of Prisons’ 500-hour Comprehensive Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program. He did not object to that sentencing provision.

Brown did, however, object to a supervised release condition that prohibited him from using alcohol or entering “bars, taverns, or other establishments whose primary source of income is derived from the sale of alcohol.”

The Eighth Circuit noted that Brown’s criminal history involved no charges related to drugs or alcohol. Nor did he have an “extensive history of drug use,” as he had admitted to using marijuana only twice.

Alcohol bans can be appropriate “for defendants with substance-abuse problems,” but not “where the defendant’s history or crime of conviction [does] not support a complete ban on alcohol.” Such special conditions of supervised release require “an individualized inquiry into the facts and circumstances underlying a case and sufficient findings on the record.”

The district court had failed to make sufficient findings, and consequently the Eighth Circuit vacated Brown’s special conditions for supervised release. Following remand, the district court entered an amended judgment on July 10, 2015. See: United States v. Brown, 789 F.3d 932 (8th Cir. 2015).

The Ninth Circuit addressed a similar issue in a 2014 case involving a supervised release condition that required the defendant to abstain from alcohol and drug use, with similar results. [See: PLN, April 2016, p.32]. 

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Related legal case

United States v. Brown