Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Right to Parent and Restrictions on Associating with Minors

In United States v. Widmer, No. 13-6283, the Sixth Circuit considered special conditions of supervised release that prevent a defendant from associating with minors without first receiving written permission from his or her probation officer. Mr. Widmer was convicted of possessing child pornography and given a special condition that required him to seek his probation officer's written permission if he wanted to associate with anyone under eighteen. Because Mr. Widmer is the parent of a minor daughter, he challenged the restrict - in part - by arguing it was a constitutional deprivation of his fundamental right to parent and associate with his family. He also argued that the condition did not advance a rehabilitation or safety interest and was either not merited by the record or not supported by a sufficient explanation from the judge.

The Widmer Court noted the right to family life is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment but is not absolute. Rather, special conditions of supervised release that implicate parental rights require explicit consideration by the sentencing court, as they are more intrusive to the individual. The sentencing judge below explicitly addressed the association restriction and its application to Widmer's minor daughter. In reviewing the district court's reasoning, the Widmer court held, "Although Widmer asserts that the association restriction is not narrowly tailored because it affects his association with his own child, it is clear that the restriction is tailored for the precise purpose of protecting Widmer's daughter."

Although Widmer asserted his crime of possessing child pornography was passive, the Sixth Circuit stated that Widmer's disregard for the welfare of the children depicted suggested otherwise. In sum, the Widmer court found that the district court was in its discretion to impose the special condition. The decision also provided a standard procedural reasonableness analysis of the district court's explanation at sentencing.

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