Later this month, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in United States v Haymond, a case that tests the legality of increased mandatory minimums and maximums for sex offenders who are accused of committing another sex offense while on release. Haymond had the misfortune to get malware on his smartphone, which gave him all sorts of nasty little goodies, including child pornography. As the evidence was pretty conclusive that he did not deliberately download these files, the Government tried to convict him through the back door of revoking his supervised release.
Like the majority of those accused of violations on supervised release, there is just not enough to actually charge the releasee with a crime. If the accusation somehow made it through the grand jury process, it would fall apart under scrutiny at trial. Supervised release has become a way to jam square accusations into round holes, indirectly and illegitimately convicting releasees of crimes.
As we have been discussing for much of the past month, supervised release has became an end run around the Constitution. Haymond is the first to truly grapple with this fact. While, on paper, this case only affects a tiny subset of releasees, it has much broader implications. It will determine whether there are substantive limitations on Congress’ ability to impose release at all.
In this way, Haymond is probably the most important case that the Court has decided to hear in years. Success for Haymond would open release up to a plethora of challenges. If it is wrong to subject Haymond to a prison term in excess of his statutory maximum, then any term of release that is otherwise beyond the maximum must likewise be illegal. How can someone have a life release if the crime has a ten year cap?
To this end, it is not surprising that release will pivot on the dishonest comparison to parole, which litters the briefing. Both the Solicitor General and the State of Utah have tied the success of this to the legality of probation and parole. It is pretended that they are functionally equivalent, and that, to impose any limits on one must necessarily call the legitimacy of all into question. While the defense has called this false dichotomy into a question, it remains to be seen what the Court will do on it.