Thursday, August 31, 2017

Supervised release enhancement declared unconstitutional

Hidden at the end of the statute that empowers district courts to impose a sentence of supervised release after a sentence of imprisonment is an enhancement that can did allow imposition of a life sentence for certain violations of supervised release. That statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) requires required a district court to impose "not less than five" years imprisonment when the defendant was on supervised release for certain offenses against minors when the government proves the defendant committed one of a number of sex offenses while under that supervision. The maximum sentence you might ask? Life.

Such a danger of a life sentence exists no more. In United States v Haymond, the Tenth Circuit found that portion of the statute unconstitutional. As summarized by the majority:
We conclude that 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) violates the Fifth and Sixth Amendments because (1) it strips the sentencing judge of discretion to impose punishment within the statutorily prescribed range, and (2) it imposes heightened punishment on sex offenders expressly based, not on their original crimes of conviction, but on new conduct for which they have not been convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt and for which they may be separately charged, convicted, and punished.
There is also an interesting discussion of sufficiency of evidence as related to evidence of thumbnails in a child pornography case. Although the Court did not reverse on this ground (remember the standard of proof in supervised release revocations is preponderance of the evidence) the discussion is worth your time.

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