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Court edits supervised release alcohol use restriction

July 18, 2017

Though the language of a district court order prohibiting a man’s “excessive” use of alcohol was “loose and indeterminate,” the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the order Monday after adding modifying language to the order that eliminated the vagueness concerns.

In United States of America v. Kenneth Sandidge, 16-2180, Lake County law enforcement officers were investigating a report that Kenneth Sandidge had attempted to sexually assault a woman at gunpoint when a loaded revolver was found in his living room. Sandidge pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a felon, and Judge Rudy Lozano of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana imposed a 92-month prison sentence, followed by two years of supervised release. http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/rssExec.pl?Submit=Display&Path=Y2017/D07-17/C:16-2180:J:Sykes:aut:T:fnOp:N:1995782:S:0

Sandidge had a history of alcohol abuse that contributed to his arrest and his earlier criminal conduct, so his probation officer recommended a supervised release condition that would prohibit him from using any mood-altering substances. The judge imposed that condition, but Sandidge appealed, challenging the judge’s approach to the conditions of supervised release.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Sandidge’s sentence in his initial appeal and remanded the case for resentencing, noting the prohibition against “mood-altering substances” was impermissibly vague and overbroad. On remand, Lozano revised the conditions of supervised release to include a prohibition against the “excessive use of alcohol.”

Specifically, Sandidge was prohibited from “binge drinking” up to the point of having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams and from “heavy drinking” by consuming 15 drinks or more per week. Additionally, the revised order held Sandidge could not consume alcohol to a point that “adversely affects (the) defendant’s employment, relationships, or ability to comply with the conditions of supervision … .”

Sandidge lodged a vagueness objection, which was rejected, leading to the second, instant appeal before the 7th Circuit. Judge Diane Sykes wrote for the circuit panel that the “adversely affects” language of the revised order was open-ended and indeterminate, opening the door to potential arbitrary enforcement issues.

Thus, the 7th Circuit determined a limiting principle was needed to modify the “adversely affects” provision. To remedy this issue, the court added the modifier “materially” to that language, creating an order that prohibits alcohol use that “materially adversely affects” Sandidge’s employment, relationships or supervision.

“The concept of ‘material adverse effects’ is sufficiently clear and provides a familiar and administrable standard to guard against arbitrary enforcement,” Sykes wrote. “This ready fix cures the vagueness problem … .”

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