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Supervised Release Decisions Must Include Court's Reasoning

By Robyn Hagan Cain on October 19, 2012 4:02 PM

Nicolai Quinn pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, and was sentenced to 97 months' imprisonment. While his plea agreement contained a promise not to appeal the conviction and length of imprisonment, it didn't stop him from appealing his sentence of supervised release.

And so we turn to Quinn's supervised release challenge in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Quinn claims that the district judge erred by sentencing him to supervision for life. While both the criminal code and the Sentencing Guidelines authorize lifetime supervised release for child pornography possession, that doesn't mean that a life of supervised release is a foregone conclusion. A Guidelines-range sentence is entitled to a presumption of substantive reasonableness, but a judge must nonetheless consider a defendant's serious arguments for a sentence below the Sentencing Commission's recommendations.

Here, Quinn asked the judge to choose a 10-year term of supervised release. He submitted a forensic psychologist's evaluation, which concluded that he has a lower-than-normal risk of recidivism. He also submitted the testimony that two psychologists recently had presented to the Sentencing Commission regarding the recidivism rate for persons convicted of child-pornography offenses.

The judge discussed the forensic psychologist's evaluation briefly when explaining why he chose a sentence of 97 months, but he did not discuss psychologists' report to the Sentencing Commission. The district judge also failed to discuss either the length of supervision or the terms that Quinn would be required to follow while under supervision.

According to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, that qualifies as an error that warrants resentencing.

The appellate court noted that a district judge must explain important decisions such as the one at issue here. On remand, the court instructed that the judge should consider not only how Quinn's arguments about recidivism affect the appropriate length of supervised release, but also the interaction between the length and the terms of supervised release.

The more onerous the terms, the shorter the period should be.

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