Thursday, October 23, 2014

Say Yes To Beer

Yesterday, the Kansas City Royals won their first World Series game since 1985. This is one reason to say yes to beer (especially if you live in Kansas City). But that is not what this post is about. This post is about something just as glorious as a Royals win: this Ninth Circuit decision (United States v. Bell).
Ok, the decision begins with a few duds (the panel rejected a Sixth Amendment claim and a sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim), but it ends with a bang. The panel vacated special conditions of supervised release that required the defendant to undergo substance abuse treatment and prohibited the defendant from consuming alcohol. Citing 18 U.S.C 3583(d), the panel vacated the conditions because there was no evidence that the defendant had substance abuse or alcohol problems (the district court also failed to make the necessary findings to support these conditions).
Say yes to beer.
This might seem like a rather insignificant victory, but, for those of us who have spent countless hours challenging nonsensical special conditions like the ones at issue in this case, it is validation. I took a look at the briefs filed in this case. The government's was particularly bad, asking the Court to affirm these special conditions because the "conditions are, at most, de minimis infringements on Bell's liberty." This begs the question: where in the statute does it allow unsupported special conditions as long as they are de minimis? (answer: nowhere) And how, again, is attending substance abuse treatment a de minimis intrusion? (answer: it is not). Someone should make the author of the government's brief attend substance abuse treatment. I mean, it's not that big of a deal. The government's argument was bad. There should have been a concession of error in this case, like there was in this case.
A few final thoughts on an alcohol ban: (1) the statute permits a limitation on "excessive use of alcohol," it does not allow a district court to impose a complete ban on alcohol (see 18 U.S.C. 3563(b)(7) & USSG 5D1.3(c)(7)); (2) a lot of products contain alcohol (even non-alcoholic beer contains alcohol); and (3) the 18th Amendment was repealed over 80 years ago. 

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