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Eighth Circuit Vacates Supervised Release Order Barring Wife from Contact with Husband

by Derek Gilna

Cynthia Louis Hobbs was convicted, along with her husband, of aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and sentenced to 56 months in prison and five years of supervised release. After she left prison in November 2014, her supervised release was uneventful until her husband was released. In January 2016, federal officials sought to revoke her supervised release for numerous violations.

During the subsequent revocation proceedings, the government sought an order of “no contact” with Hobbs’ husband, alleging that her violations were somehow linked to her husband’s release. The district court judge agreed, noting that “My understanding from speaking with the probation officer and reviewing the record, is that Ms. Hobbs was doing very well on supervision when she was living independently and Mr. Hobbs was still incarcerated.... And then this contact occurs with her spouse, and those positive steps forward cease and, in fact, she absconds from supervision. That time line seems to the court to be instructive.”

Probation officials offered no proof, however, that Hobbs had had any contact with her husband after he left prison. Notwithstanding that fact, the district court modified the conditions of Hobbs’ supervised release, stating, “The defendant shall have no direct, indirect, or electronic contact with codefendant and husband, Jack Hobbs, during her term of supervised release.”

Hobbs appealed and the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded on December 14, 2016, noting that although “A sentencing judge is afforded wide discretion when imposing terms of supervised release....
[s]entencing discretion is cabined by statute. 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d) ... special supervised-release conditions must reasonably relate to the nature and circumstances of the offense, the defendant’s history and characteristics, deterring criminal conduct, protecting the public, and promoting the defendant’s correctional needs.” Additionally, “the conditions must not constrain the defendant’s liberty more than reasonably necessary to deter criminal conduct....”

The appellate court found the no-contact condition imposed on Hobbs was too restrictive, especially when “this case involves another important constitutional right – marriage.” The Court of Appeals further noted that the evidence did not support such a sweeping restriction, and took the unusual step of ordering a “closed record,” preventing the government from augmenting the record on remand and “limiting it to one bite of the apple,” since the “legal issue here was clear, and the government’s failure of proof is inexcusable.”

The case was remanded to the district court with instructions to vacate the no-contact condition and resentence Hobbs. See: United States v. Hobbs, 845 F.3d 365 (8th Cir. 2016). 

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Related legal case

United States v. Hobbs