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. Continue reading →