July 15, 2016 By Wallin & Klarich

If you are convicted of a crime and placed on probation, you will be required to follow certain terms and conditions of your probation. These conditions are often related to the circumstances of your crime.

So, what happens when the conditions of your probation are nearly impossible to follow? Can the court take away your right to use the internet and travel freely? This question was recently decided by the Ninth District U.S. Court of Appeals.

Court of Appeals Case

Joseph LaCoste plead guilty to federal securities fraud charges after being accused of illegally obtaining investments from his victims. He was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of probation.

LaCoste’s sentence was not all that unusual, but the conditions of his probation were very restrictive. Among other conditions, he was barred from using the internet without prior approval from his parole officer, and from residing in certain counties. Ultimately, the court threw out these conditions as being too broad and unrelated to his crimes.1

“A Fresh Start”

In sentencing LaCoste, the trial court found that he would often go on the internet to post disparaging comments about the people who fell victim to his crimes, spreading rumors about them and causing them additional emotional stress. The judge reasoned that because of his tendency to do this, he should not have access to the internet, and upon his release, he should not return to the communities where his victims resided.

In his remarks at sentencing, the judge told LaCoste that it would be better if he took the opportunity to make “a fresh start” so that the communities could heal.

Though he used the internet to mock and criticize his victims, the Court of Appeal found that the internet conditions were not reasonably related to the crime that he committed. The restriction barred him from any use of the internet, regardless of whether it was related to making remarks about his victims.

The appellate court saw this as too broad, and because of this, it deprived LaCoste of more freedom than was needed to prevent him from posting comments about those who complained about him.

The government argued that he could still use the internet with the approval of his parole officer, making the restriction reasonable. The court did not agree. Instead, it found that the trial court could have instead come up with a more specific restriction that would not leave it to a parole officer to decide whether LaCoste could use the internet.

In turning to the restrictions on where he could live, the court found that the ban on his living in those counties to be unrelated to his crimes. Courts are allowed to “banish” a defendant from his or her community if there is evidence showing that returning to that community will make it more likely that he or she will commit another crime in that community.

In LaCoste’s case, the trial court did not explain how returning to one of those counties would result in a return to his criminal past. Instead, the trial court focused on the need for those communities to heal from his acts. The Court of Appeal pointed out that the soonest LaCoste could return is 2019, giving the communities adequate time to recover from his crime.

Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Probation Conditions

The most important takeaway from the LaCoste case is that even if you have been convicted of a crime, you still have certain rights that cannot be taken from you. If you are subject to a probation or parole condition that is overly broad and unrelated to your crime, you should consult with an experienced attorney about whether an appeal is an option for you.

At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled team of attorneys has been successfully helping clients appeal their cases for more than 35 years. Let our knowledgeable attorneys help you now.

With offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, Torrance, West Covina, Victorville and Ventura, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Contact our offices today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

1. United States v. LaCoste, No. 15-30001, May 12, 2016 (9th Cir). href=”#ref1″>↩

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