December 14, 2007

Blanket ban on alcohol verboten, court rules

For those of you who are involved with parolees and probationers: How many times have you seen a blanket prohibition on alcohol consumption as a condition of someone's supervised release? Do you ever see the prohibition imposed on people who have no documented history of alcohol abuse, with random urinalyses to ensure compliance? I see it quite often.

Such blanket prohibitions will be a thing of the past if the courts follow the law as dictated today by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Perhaps emboldened by the Supreme Court's dramatic rulings earlier this week on individualized sentencing (which some are calling as monumental to civil rights as was Brown v. Board of Education a half-century ago), the Ninth Circuit today extended the logic of individualized sentencing to alcohol bans.

The case of U.S. v. Betts involves white-collar criminal Marcus Betts, who accepted bribes to increase people's credit ratings while he worked for the TransUnion credit agency.

The judge imposed as a condition of his probation that he abstain from alcohol, despite acknowledging on the record that there was no evidence that Betts had a liquor problem.

Explaining its logic, the appellate court wrote:
"[There is nothing] wrong generally with supervised release conditions requiring abstention from alcohol. Many people commit crimes when they drink too much and such conditions are often necessary to protect the public and provide correctional treatment. We have upheld abstention conditions where there is some indication in the record of a problem of abuse…. But the decision has to be individualized, not a matter of policy application without regard to the individual defendant."
Those of you who read my blog regularly will recall that only three months ago, the Ninth Circuit held that parolees cannot be required to attend 12-step treatment programs. More on that ruling is here.

The Appellate Law & Practice and Sentencing Law & Policy blogs both have posts on today's ruling, which is also available online. An interesting Newsweek magazine story on the import of this week's U.S. Supreme Court's sentencing rulings is here.