Justices to Weigh Sentencing Rules for Sex Offenders

(CN) – The Supreme Court agreed late Friday to decide whether federal law requires sex offenders to be automatically sent back to prison without a new trial for possessing child pornography.

Andre Haymond was found guilty in 2010 of child pornography charges and sentenced to over three years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release.

Two years after he got out of prison, probation officers seized his cellphone and several computers during a surprise search of his apartment. They found several images deemed child pornography and a search history for “websites with titles indicative of sexually explicit material,” according to court records.

Haymond was charged with five violations of his supervised release terms.

The district court sentenced him to five more years in prison and five years of supervised release based on a section of U.S. criminal code that requires a mandatory minimum sentence of five years’ reincarceration for possession of child pornography.

Haymond appealed and a divided 10th Circuit panel vacated his new sentence last year.

“We conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the district court’s finding that Haymond violated the conditions of his supervised release, but we agree that 18 U.S.C. § 3583(k) is unconstitutional because it strips the sentencing judge of discretion to impose punishment within the statutorily prescribed range, and it imposes heightened punishment on sex offenders based, not on their original crimes of conviction, but on new conduct for which they have not been convicted by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.,” U.S. Circuit Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote for the court’s 2-1 majority.

In a petition for a writ of certiorari filed in June, the Justice Department urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the sentencing law that the 10th Circuit found unconstitutional.

“The inherently conditional nature of supervised release incorporates the prospect of reimprisonment if the defendant proves unable to comply with the terms of that release,” the petition states.

On Friday afternoon, the justices agreed to decide the constitutionality of the law. They did not comment on the decision to take up the case, per their custom.

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