Fifth Circuit Remands Conditions of Supervised Release

In United States v. Ramos-Gonzales the Fifth Circuit vacated the Southern District of Texas’ “re-imposition” condition of Supervised Release.

Ramos-Gonzales was arrested and charged with attempt to transport undocumented individuals.  She pled guilty and the PSR suggested a guidelines range of 8-14 months with a 3 year term of supervised release.

The first time she was sentenced the “standard terms and conditions of supervision” were imposed.  that included a “nighttime restriction of 12 midnight to 6 AM and drug surveillance.”  There were no objections to that.

Ramos-Gonzales appealed claiming that the court committed plain error with the drug surveillance and night time restriction conditions of supervised release, stating that the district court failed to explain its reasons and the record didn’t furnish independent evidentiary support.  The government moved to remand for the same reasons stating that even though she had a 2012 conviction for possession of 44 pounds of marijuana and last smoked marijuana 25 years ago, there is nothing in the record that warrants drug  in the manner prescribed.  The Court granted plain error relief after doing its own analysis.

At resentencing the District Court Vacated the nighttime restriction because Ramos-Gonzales was living with her children and there was no evidence that the offense occurred at night time.  The court maintained the drug surveillance condition because of her prior drug conviction even though counsel maintained her objection because it was an invasion of privacy and a financial burden.

The court pointed out that that the special conditions must be reasonably related to one of four factors:

(1) “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant”;

(2) “the need . . . to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct”;

(3) “the need . . . to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant”; and

(4) “the need . . . to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner.”

The court went on to indicate that the standard of review is abuse of discretion.

The court indicated that the conviction for possession was from 2012, there was no evidence that she engaged in personal drug use and the court can’t speculate as to any criminal conduct that a surveillance-related special condition would detect or deter.  The court concluded that there was no relevant evidence of drug use and the district court abused their discretion in imposing that special condition on Ramos-Gonzales.  The court went on to indicate that since she will have to do mandatory drug testing anyway that remand would be unnecessary and just vacated the special condition of supervised release.

In a footnote, it was stated that the the sentencing hearing was handled over the phone without the defendant’s physical presence.  The court also advised against conducting sentencing hearings by telephone, advising that criminal proceedings are solemn.  Judge Jones concurred in the ruling indicating that there is no rule allowing a person to conduct a hearing by telephonic conferencing and that doing such is a “lack of dignity and detachment from the moral drama of the criminal justice system.”

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