Academic journal article Federal Probation

Conditions of Supervision in Federal Criminal Sentencing: A Review of Recent Changes

Academic journal article Federal Probation

Conditions of Supervision in Federal Criminal Sentencing: A Review of Recent Changes

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

IN LATE 2016, several changes related to the conditions of probation and supervised release in federal criminal sentencing went into effect. These were (1) revisions to the national Judgment forms that list the conditions imposed by the sentencing court; (2) the release of a public document on the conditions of supervision as a resource for the courts, criminal Justice practitioners, and defendants; and (3) changes to policy guidance for probation officers on the recommendation and implementation of the conditions.

These changes were the result of the most exhaustive review of the conditions since the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 went into effect, which was prompted by several developments. First, in recent years there have been an increasing number of appellate court opinions raising concerns about the conditions. Additionally, individual federal Judicial districts have reacted to these opinions by adopting a wide variety of practices for the conditions' wording and procedures. Finally, national stakeholders have expressed interest in re-examining the conditions and providing more information to assist the courts and parties with applying conditions that satisfy legal requirements. This article describes the developments that led to the recent review and changes, provides an overview of the review process, and summarizes the specific changes.

II. General Legal Framework

Defendants sentenced to federal probation or supervised release are required by statute to be supervised by a probation officer "to the degree warranted by the conditions specified by the sentencing court."2 The conditions of supervision set the parameters of supervision by the probation officer and establish behavioral expectations for defendants. They also assist in satisfying the probation officer's statutory duty to keep informed of, report to the court about, and bring about improvements in the defendant's conduct and condition.3 Violations of conditions may lead to a variety of court responses, including modification of the conditions and revocation of probation or supervised release.4

When imposing a sentence of probation or supervised release, the court is statutorily required to impose certain "mandatory conditions."5 The court may also impose additional "discretionary conditions" when certain requirements are met.6 Specifically, the court may impose discretionary conditions to the extent that they: (1) are reasonably related to the nature and circumstances of the offense, the history and characteristics of the defendant, and applicable statutory sentencing purposes7; (2) involve only such deprivations of liberty or property as reasonably necessary for the applicable statutory sentencing purposes8; and (3) are consistent with any pertinent policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission.9

Discretionary conditions of supervision are further divided into "standard" and "special" conditions. Standard conditions are those that have been established by policy of the Judicial Conference of the United States or policy statements of the United States Sentencing Commission as applicable to all sentenced defendants.10 Most of the standard conditions imposed in federal criminal sentencing are similar to those in state jurisdictions.11 Special conditions provide for additional restrictions, correctional interventions, monitoring tools, or sanctions as necessary to achieve the purposes of sentencing in the individual case.12

III. Roles of Federal Judiciary Entities in Developing and Implementing Conditions

The federal judiciary, including the probation and pretrial services system, has a highly decentralized structure involving numerous entities at the district and national levels. Each district court in the 94 federal judicial districts has the authority to issue local judgment forms and policies. The judgment forms include both mandatory and standard conditions of supervision as well as space for the sentencing court to list any special conditions. …

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