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August 13, 2009

"Courts Face Growing Battle Over Limits on Ex-Convicts"

NA-AZ663_SUPERV_NS_20090812184717 The title of this post is the headline of this effective article in today's Wall Street Journal.  Here are some highlights:

When felons are released from prison, what is the best way to give them back their freedom but make sure they don't commit a crime again?

Trial judges across the country are struggling with that question, particularly as they confront a rise in federal sex-offense cases, some of which involve computer downloads of illegal pornography. The debate has intensified as some judges impose what felons say are broad or arbitrary restrictions on how they live once they are freed from prison, from bans on alcohol and gambling to constraints on housing arrangements....

The details of supervised release, which entails monitoring felons after they leave federal prison, are spelled out by judges when they issue sentences. Some defendants have successfully challenged the release terms on the grounds that they would impede rehabilitation, or by arguing that the restrictions were unrelated to the original crime....

As of September 2008, more than 95,000 convicts were serving a term of supervised release, up from 51,000 in 1997, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Judges are allowed to impose special conditions during supervised release, as long as the conditions are related to the crime and don't cause "unnecessary deprivations" of liberty. For example, judges can forbid ex-convicts from associating with people who helped them commit crimes in the past. In some cases, judges have barred felons from using the Internet, while others have prevented sex offenders from driving a car or said they must wear "appropriate" clothing.

Until recently, challenges to supervised release conditions were rare.  Most defendants who pled guilty focused their appeals on challenging prison time, lawyers say.  But that might be changing. "I tell my clients now they need to worry just as much about the supervised release as about the sentence because it will have equally long-lasting life consequences for them," said Troy Stabenow, a federal public defender in Jefferson City, Mo.

August 13, 2009 at 10:09 AM | Permalink


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FYI Doug, we had a somewhat related, high-profile ruling from a federal district judge involving similar issues with state supervision conditions on sex offenders just last week.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 13, 2009 11:24:59 AM

"When felons are released from prison, what is the best way to give them back their freedom but make sure they don't commit a crime again?"

The answer to the above question for many first time non-violent offenders is H.R.1529 the “Second Chance for Ex-Offenders Act of 2009” and no, one size does not fit all. That is the beauty of '1529. It is neither a free ride nor a guarantee, only the opportunity to apply for consideration. Many will not be found deserving and that is as it should be but many thousands will benefit thus allowing these people find meaningful employment, the real answer to recidivism. It's a crying shame that Congressman Rangel has turned his back on legislation that he has sponsored for more than eight years at exactly the time that he has the best chance for passing this bill. Despite repeated inquiries, no explanation has been offered by Rangel’s office.

Just a concerned citizen.

Posted by: HadEnough | Aug 13, 2009 7:11:54 PM

An additional thought. Why aren't you defense lawyers all over this bill? Every applicant will need one of you. Think additional billing.
Oops, sorry, what was I thinking? If you actually help them return to society and become successful, they have no further need of a defense lawyer. Result, end of billing. Unthinkable
Oh well, perhaps a few will do the right thing anyway.

Posted by: HadEnough | Aug 13, 2009 7:18:31 PM

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