United States v. Anthony Jordan (7th Cir. March 2021)

The Federal Docket

March 30, 2021

Supervised Release – A district court must adequately explain its decision to revoke a defendant’s supervised release and sentence them to time in prison, and the Court of Appeals can review such a decision under its “supervisory power” to reverse trial court judgments the Court considers wrong.

Anthony Jordon was on supervised release that included conditions requiring him to submit to drug testing. Over the course of two days after several months on supervised release, during which he repeatedly tested negative for drugs, he missed a drug test and two assessments. After his probation officer moved to revoke Jordan’s supervised release, the court revoked and sentenced Jordan to 6 months in prison and additional time on supervised release.

Jordan appealed, and the Seventh Circuit reversed his revocation. The Court held that the district court “did not sufficiently explain its decision, consider Jordan’s defense that his violation was unintentional, or otherwise ensure that its sentence conformed to the parsimony principle of 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).” The Court noted the consistent and repeated efforts by Jordan to ensure he was available for drug tests, including on the day he missed his test, and his testimony that he was confused regarding the scheduled date and time for his assessment.

The Court held that there was no waiver or forfeiture of any issues, and rejected the government’s request to apply plain error review. Rather, the Court noted that the issue falls within “the supervisory power of an appellate court to review proceedings of trial courts and to reverse judgments of such courts which the appellate court concludes were wrong.” The Court explained that such a standard “permits us to require sound procedures that are no specifically commanded by the statutes or other relevant provisions.”

Applying that standard, the Court held that the district court failed to adequately explain its rejection of Jordan’s explanations regarding his lack of intent to violate his conditions. The Court was critical of the district court’s decision to adopt the probation memorandum as its findings of fact before allowing Jordan to testify. The Court also concluded that the district court did not adequately explain its decision to impose a six month custodial sentence or cite tot he 3553(a) factors. The Court emphasized that such an explanation is especially important in a case involving unintentional, non-criminal violations. The Court added that “the Supreme Court has observed that prison is not necessarily appropriate for every violation of a condition of release,
such as where, as the defendant asserts here, the defendant made bona fide efforts to comply and does not obviously pose
a threat to society.”

Appeal from the Central District of Illinois
Opinion by Hamilton, joined by Easterbrook and St. Eve

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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