Friday, December 17, 2021

When evaluating a motion for early termination of supervised release, a district court may not impute a probation officer's improper actions to the defendant

 In United States v. Sheppard, Appeal No. 20-3088 (Nov. 3, 2021), defendant moved for early termination of supervised release based on allegations that his probation officer developed a personal and intimate relationship with defendant's long-term, live-in girlfriend. The defendant contended that his probation officer's egregious and offensive conduct had a detrimental effect on his rehabilitation and warranted early termination. The district court denied the defendant's motion, finding that the defendant needed continued supervision and the probation officer's misconduct had little to do with whether the defendant should continue supervision with a different probation officer. 

The Third Circuit affirmed the district court's discretionary denial of early termination on appeal, but stressed that "when evaluating a motion for early termination, a district court, particularly in the absence of holding an evidentiary hearing, may not impute a probation officer’s alleged improper actions to a defendant serving a term of supervised release, so as to justify continued (or additional) rehabilitative oversight." Indeed, "imputing a probation officer’s misconduct to a defendant places the defendant in a vulnerable position – not just in terms of seeking relief for the probation officer’s misconduct, but also as to the defendant’s welfare and ability to integrate into the community." Thus, while the district court did not err in denying the defendant's motion, it should not have considered the possible effects of the probation officer's misconduct on the defendant's rehabilitation.

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