News You Can Use: Tenth Circuit holds mandating medication on supervised release requires particularized findings and compelling circumstances

Earlier this fall, in United States v Malone the Tenth Circuit confronted a special condition of supervised release that directed the defendant to participate in mental health treatment while on supervision.   Conditions of this sort are fairly routine, but this condition included a particularly problematic feature – it required Mr. Malone to “take prescribed medication as directed.”  In imposing the condition, the trial court gave no justification for it.

There was no objection to the condition in the district court, but the Tenth Circuit reversed for plain error.  The court explained that requiring a person to take psychotropic drugs – which this requirement, as part of a mental health condition, plainly did – intrudes on a significant liberty interest.  And when a court wants to impose a condition of supervised release that “invades a fundamental right or liberty interest,” it must make particularized findings that set out “compelling circumstances” that justify the condition.  The district court didn’t do so here, and because the record would not have supported the necessary findings in any event, the court directed the district court to strike the “offending language” from the judgment.

Key Takeaways:

  • Keep an eye out for conditions like this in PSRs that come your way.  As the circuit recognized, this condition was being “broadly imposed as a ‘stock’ special condition” in Kansas.  Similar conditions have also cropped up in other judicial districts.
    • To that end, take note of this language in Malone:

      “When “stock” special conditions are proposed and the defendant does not object, it is easy to overlook the constitutional implications at stake. But even when the defendant does not object, the district court must ensure that its conditions conform to the Constitution.”

  • Carefully review proposed conditions to see whether they infringe on fundamental rights or liberty interests.  Lots of conditions fit this description.  Examples include: occupational restrictions, restrictions on familial association, and possessing of legal, sexually explicit material.
  • Develop your record at sentencing.  Ask the district court to make the requisite findings and establish the compelling reasons to justify the condition.

Author: COFPD

Federal Public Defender's Office for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming