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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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30-Year Computer Ban for Sex Offender Tossed

(CN) - The D.C. Circuit overturned a judge's 30-year ban on computers for an engineer caught in an Internet predator sting, saying the restriction was "substantively unreasonable" for someone who relies on computers to make a living.

Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams said the lengthy computer ban, a term of Mark Wayne Russell's 30-year parole, "affirmatively and aggressively interferes with the goal of rehabilitation."

Mark Wayne Russell pleaded guilty to one count of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct after he drove to Washington, D.C., to have sex with a 13-year-old girl he met online, who turned out to be an undercover police officer.

The married father of three pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3 years and 10 months in prison, with 30 years of supervised release. The computer ban was a term of his parole.

Before his arrest, Russell spent 10 years as an applied science engineer at John Hopkins University. He has a bachelors of science in engineering and a master's degree in strategic intelligence.

Though a computer ban was reasonable, the court ruled, its "form and severity" were not.

Russell's prison term, combined with the 30 years of probation and his requirement to register as a sex offender, "already achieves considerable severity," Williams wrote. But more importantly, the court said, the computer ban would interfere with Russell's chances of finding a job.

"It is hard to imagine white collar work in 2010 not requiring access to computers," William wrote, noting that Russell is at the "technically sophisticated end of the white collar distribution."

The court upheld the 30-year parole term, but vacated and the computer ban and remanded for resentencing.

Judge Karen Henderson concurred, but wrote separately to "distance [herself] on various points," including the notion that a ban on a criminal's computer use is a "substantial burden" on liberty.

"A defendant convicted of vehicular homicide can permanently lose his driving privilege, and the resulting ban on his use of an automobile - which, like Russell's computer, enabled the crime - does not deprive him of his liberty," Henderson wrote.

"That Russell's white collar career may be adversely affected by the computer ban ... does not ipso facto translate to a deprivation of liberty," she said.

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