Probation Supervision of Sex Offenders and Delegation of Judicial Authority

United States v. Morin, No. 15-50197, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 14549 (5th Cir. Aug. 8, 2016).

Fifth Circuit rules District Court’s probation requirement that the offender comply with “unspecified lifestyle restrictions” imposed by the offender’s therapist during supervised release constitutes an unauthorized delegation of judicial authority and the oral sentencing pronouncement controls when in conflict with the written record.

Background: Robert Morin pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender as required by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The district court sentenced Morin to 33 months of imprisonment and five years of supervised release. Morin challenged two conditions of his supervised release. He contended that the district court impermissibly delegated judicial authority by directing that Morin comply with unspecified "lifestyle restrictions" that might be imposed by a therapist throughout the term of his supervised release. He contended that the breadth of this requirement permitted a therapist, not the court, “to decide the nature and extent of the punishment imposed.” Morin additionally argued that the written requirement that he abstain from the use of alcohol during his term of supervised release was not included in the district court's oral pronouncement of the sentence, making it invalid. Holding: The Fifth Circuit agreed and vacated the two challenged conditions.

Notable Point:

Scope of conditions of supervised release: The Fifth Circuit emphasized that only courts have the authority to impose conditions of supervised release beyond the mandatory restrictions. The court agreed that the manner and means of therapy during treatment may be devised by therapists. Therapists and other non-judicial actors could forward to the court recommendations for new conditions.


Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 3