United States v. Thomas Alonzo Bolin (2nd Cir. September 2020)

The Federal Docket

October 26, 2020

Vagueness – A condition of supervised release that defined online violence to “include speech that was not race-based or bias-motivated was too vague to inform a defendant of conduct that would result in return to prison.

Thomas Alonzo Bolin was convicted of making a false, fictitious statement to the FBI and was sentenced to time served and three years of supervised release with special conditions.  Bolin challenged two conditions that prevented online statements promoting or endorsing violence and owning a computer or internet device without participation in a monitoring program on the basis of his First Amendment rights to free speech and the Sentencing Guidelines under 5D1.3(b)(1).

The Court reviewed Bolin’s challenge to his supervised release condition prohibiting him from posting or uploading any statement that promoted or endorsed violence.  The Court held that violence, specifically defined in the condition as “violence against persons because of their membership in a certain social group or race, bias related violence or criminal conduct,” was too vague to allow a reasonable person to know what speech was forbidden.  The Court held that the condition did not limit Bolin’s speech to only race-based or bias-motivated communications, so topics such as football, military action in Iraq, or urging participation in a “Texas rattlesnake roundup” could be considered violent speech, thereby making the prohibition virtually endless.  The Court vacated the district court’s supervised release condition and remanded for resentencing.

The Court also considered whether the conditions of supervised release were reasonably related to the Sentencing Guidelines 5D1.3(b)(1).  See full opinion for more details.

Appeal from the Western District of New York

Opinion by Sack, joined by Wesley and Chin.

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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