Thursday, January 21, 2010

Court Continues to Require Careful Tailoring of Internet Restrictions on Sex Offenders

In United States v. Heckman, 08-3844, the Third Circuit extended its line of precedent (Crandon, Freeman, Voelker, Thielemann) requiring district courts to carefully tailor internet restrictions for sex offenders on supervised release. Heckman had a lengthy history of child molestation, but he had never been convicted of using the internet to entice or exploit a child -- the type of conduct the Court has previously said is essential to supporting Internet bans. Nonetheless, on the instant conviction for transporting child pornography, the district court imposed a lifetime, unconditional ban on Internet access. The Court rejected this condition, refusing to make the "inferential leap" that Heckman would eventually progress to using the Internet directly to harm a child. The Court also noted that there are alternative, less restrictive means of controlling an offender's Internet use, including computer monitoring conditions. The Court made clear, however, that it was not holding that limited Internet bans of shorter duration can never be imposed as conditions of supervised release in child pornography cases.

The Court rejected Heckman's challenge to a mental health condition that he had argued impermissibly delegated too much authority to Probation. It read the condition as requiring participation in mental health treatment, leaving only the details to be set by Probation, which is permissible under the Court's precedent in Pruden. The government had conceded that a condition governing contact with minors was impermissible because it gave full discretion over Heckman's contact with minors (including his own family members) to Probation.

Congratulations to Christy Unger, EDPA, for the win!

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