Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Supervised release: rehabilitation, or trap?

A must read from E.D.N.Y. District Court Judge Weinstein last week, in United States v. Trotter. Here is the introduction to Judge Weinstein's 42-page decision terminating Mr. Trotter's supervision not despite, but because of his marijuana addiction:

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This case raises serious issues about sentencing generally, and supervised release for marijuana users specifically: Are we imposing longer terms than are needed for effective supervised release? Should we stop punishing supervisees for a marijuana addiction or habit?

After revisiting and reconsidering these issues, I conclude: (1) I, like other trial judges, have in many cases imposed longer periods of supervised release than needed, and I, like other trial judges, have failed to terminate supervised release early in many cases where continuing supervision presents such a burden as to reduce the probability of rehabilitation; and (2) I, like other trial judges, have provided unnecessary conditions of supervised release and unjustifiably punished supervisees for their marijuana addiction, even though marijuana is widely used in the community and is an almost unbreakable addiction or habit for some. As a result of these errors in our sentencing practice, money and the time of our probation officers are wasted, and supervisees are unnecessarily burdened.

In summary, in this and my future cases I will: (1) impose shorter terms of supervised release as needed; (2) give greater consideration to the appropriateness of conditions; (3) provide for earlier termination where indicated; and (4) avoid violations of supervised release and punishment by incarceration merely for habitual marijuana use.


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Lots of important stuff in this opinion. I'll just note three basic points here that are good starting places:
 
1. "Supervised release is required by statute in less than half of all federal cases, but imposed as a part of nearly every sentence." We need to reverse this trend.
 
2. "A district court may terminate supervised release before the expiration of a mandatory minimum period." Don't be shy about asking for early termination.
 
3. Conditions of supervised release may be modified at any time. 18 U.S.C. 3583(e)(2). Your client may have completely different needs upon release than at sentencing. Don't be shy about moving to modify conditions that were imposed months or years ago.


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