Imposing release conditions after sentence hearing violates defendant’s constitutional rights

Sentencing judgeDownload the opinion: United States v. Juan José Santiago

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated part of a sentence imposed upon defendant Juan José Santiago by judge Daniel Domínguez from the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. Santiago was convicted 12 years ago of a sexual battery charge in the state of Florida. He is required to register as a sex offender in every jurisdiction where he resides under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), 18 U.S.C. § 16913.

Santiago has failed to register as a sex offender and abide by the terms of his probation a number of times, including when he moved to Puerto Rico a couple of years ago. He was indicted for traveling interstate and knowingly failing to register with Puerto Rico authorities. Afterwards, Santiago entered into a plea agreement with the government.

The plea agreement stipulated, among other things, that Santiago would waive his right to appeal the judgment and sentence if the agreement was ratified. The agreement stated that Santiago would serve 12 to 18 months of prison and was subject to terms and conditions of supervised release, but did not specify such terms and conditions.

At the sentencing hearing, the judge sentenced Santiago to 12 months of prison and a 10-year term of supervised release with a series of special conditions.¹ Santiago appealed the special conditions voiced by the district judge at the sentencing hearing, as well as a special condition² (Condition Thirteen, as named in the opinion) that arose in the written judgment, after the sentencing hearing.

The First Circuit of Appeals Court determined the special conditions on appeal are precluded by the waiver of appeal signed as part of the plea bargain. However, the circuit judges found that Condition Thirteen violates Santiago’s right to be present at his own sentencing. For this reason, the circuit judges decided that honoring the appeal waiver with respect to this condition would result in a miscarriage of justice.

As the opinion states on page 17, the constitutional error is clear, “[s]upervised release conditions not announced at sentencing should not make a surprise appearance in the written judgment”. The court also found there to be no evidence that Santiago was on notice that such a condition would be imposed because it wasn’t recommended in the presentence investigation report (PSR).

The circuit judges concluded the government did not convince the court that the error didn’t affect Santiago’s substantial rights. Condition Thirteen was vacated by the Circuit Court.

¹ The Opinion summarizes the contested conditions as follows: “(1) have no unapproved contact via mail, phone, or electronically with minors; (2) undergo sex offender evaluation and treatment; (3) avoid entering, loitering, or working near any areas frequented by minors without probation’s approval; (4) not live near any area frequented by minors; and finally (5) refrain from living with minors unless probation gives the okay.”

² In broad terms, Condition Thirteen ordered Santiago “to refrain from using sexually explicit material, or frequenting establishments providing pornography or sexual services.”

Summary: Cristian González

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