When Sentencing, Watch Your Language

There is a recent Seventh Circuit case that might best be described as an admonition to “watch your language when sentencing.”  (See United States v. Sandidge.)

In that case, the trial court had imposed several standard and special conditions of supervised release.  The Seventh Circuit vacated all of these conditions because the sentencing court offered no explanation as to their propriety, and conducted no review of the statutory sentencing factors.  The court noted that several of the conditions were too vague, including requirements that Appellant meet “family responsibilities” and “not associate with any persons engaged in criminal activity.”  The court also noted that several conditions were broader than necessary, such as a requirement not to “consume . . . any mood-altering substances.”

The opinion says, in part:

We have previously found that several of those [standard conditions] imposed on Sandidge suffer from fatal degrees of vagueness. See Thompson, 777 F.3d at 375, 376-80. These include, paraphrased, the requirements that Sandidge:

Support his dependents and meet other family responsibilities;

Notify the probation officer at least ten days prior to any change of employment;

Not associate with any persons engaged in criminal activity, and not associate with any person convicted of a felony unless given permission to do so by the probation officer; and

Not frequent places where controlled substances are illegally sold, used, distributed, or administered.

Without further explanation by the court, these conditions are too vague to provide adequate notice to the defendant as to what conduct is prohibited. Under Thompson, should any of these conditions be reimposed, they must be further defined in order to provide Sandidge with proper notice as to what conduct is prohibited.

Likewise, we have previously found that several of the conditions imposed on Sandidge are too broad to meet the statutory requirement that they “involve[ ] no greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary for the purposes set forth” in the applicable § 3553(a) provisions. See 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(2); see also Thompson, 777 F.3d at 375, 376-80. These include, again paraphrased, the conditions that Sandidge:

Answer truthfully all inquiries by the probation officer; and

Permit the probation officer to visit him at any time at home.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s