A federal appeals court today vacated restrictions imposed on a convicted sex offender that required him to keep a daily log of his computer use and to permit the authorities to monitor that use, saying that the trial judge failed to articulate why the limits were necessary for a crime that did not involve the Internet.
The defendant, Aaron Burroughs, a volunteer football coach in Maryland, was convicted on charges of sexually exploiting a minor and was sentenced to about 16 years in federal prison.
But the offense, which involved a 14-year-old girl and prostitution, did not involve the use of a computer and Burroughs has no prior history of illicit computer use, court records show. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit voted 2 - 1 in vacating two computer use restrictions but kept in place a third—the requirement that he inform any potential employer of any computer-related conditions of his supervised release.
The appeals court said the trial judge failed to explain why the government should be allowed to monitor Burroughs’s Internet use and why he should be required to keep a daily log of his computer use. Chief Judge David Sentelle and Judge Thomas Griffith said there was a lack of evidence in the record supporting those two conditions. The court remanded for additional proceedings.
“The government argues that these restrictions are related to Burroughs’s conduct because the Internet can be used to arrange sexual encounters with minors and to advertise minors for prostitution,” Griffith wrote. “Of course it can. But from drug dealers and Ponzi schemers and smugglers to stalkers—nearly any criminal can use the Internet to facilitate illegal conduct.”
The appeals court majority said it disagrees that the computer restrictions are “reasonably related” to the sex offenses. Judge Janice Rogers Brown said in dissent that she would have affirmed the district judge's sentence in all respects. The computer restrictions against Burroughs cannot be likened to full computer use bans that the majority points to, Brown said.
“Not knowing the court’s reasons for imposing these conditions, finding the government’s reasons unsupported by the record, and unable to identify any ourselves, we vacate the conditions as plainly out of sync with the relevant factors and remand for further proceedings,” Griffith said.
The court said that if Internet restrictions were appropriate for every defendant convicted of a sex offense against a minor, the federal sentencing guidelines would say as much.