A District Court can only impose special conditions of supervised release in certain circumstances. The District Court must find record evidence 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; or (4) the need … to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment in the most effective manner. 18 USC 3583 (d)(1)-(3).
Luara Ramos-Gonzales pled guilty to transporting an undocumented alien. The Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) recommended, and the District Court imposed, a three year term of supervised release. Without record support, the District Court also imposed curfew and drug surveillance special conditions of supervised release. Ramos-Gonzales did not object to the special conditions of supervised release.
The District Court conducted re-sentencing by telephone conference and vacated the nighttime restriction special condition because there was no record evidence it was related to Ramos-Gonzalez’ crime of transporting an undocumented alien. However, the District Court maintained the drug surveillance special conditions because Ramos-Gonzales had a 2012 conviction for possession of marijuana and had admitted smoking marijuana 25 years ago when she was 14. Ramos-Gonzales objected to the drug surveillance special condition.
Ramos appealed, and the Fifth Circuit reversed. The Fifth Circuit held that “[a]lthough Ramos-Gonzales has a 2012 conviction for possession of marijuana and had admitted smoking marijuana 25 years ago when she was 14,” there is no record evidence that she currently has an illicit drug problem. Thus, there was no criminal conduct that a drug surveillance special condition would detect or deter. Therefore, the special condition was vacated.
The Fifth Circuit, in a footnote, advised against sentencing by telephone in the future. Circuit Judge Edith Jones concurred noting “there is no authority for sentencing by telephone conference.” Moreover, “[s]entencing by telephone conferencing goes far beyond videoconferencing in its lack of dignity and detachment from the moral drama of the criminal justice system.” See United States v. Ramos-Gonzalez, No. 16-41353 (5th Cir. 2017).