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Seventh Circuit Vacates Conditions of Supervised Release Following Child Pornography Conviction

by Matt Clarke

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit vacated three of the four conditions of supervised release (“CSR”) challenged by a man who had been convicted of possessing child pornography.

Joseph Canfield pleaded guilty to possessing digital images of child pornography in Illinois federal court. He was sentenced to 78 months imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release with conditions that he participate in sex offender treatment, avoid unsupervised contact with minors, and not possess material that: depicts nudity or sexual activity; is sexually arousing; or alludes to sexual activity.

Canfield began his supervised release in June 2013. It was extended twice after he admitted using an unauthorized smartphone to view adult pornography and possessing a sexually explicit video of a female who appeared to be between the ages of 17 and 19. In May 2017, he told his treatment provider he had smoked marijuana two years earlier and held a female infant without telling her mother he was a sex offender. In response, the treatment provider “unsuccessfully discharged” him from the treatment program. This led to the revocation of his supervised release for failure to participate in the treatment program and unauthorized contact with a minor, the imposition of an additional six months of imprisonment followed by another five years of supervised release, and the imposition of four additional CSR: (1) a requirement to provide notice to third parties about the risks his sex offender status may pose, (2) a ban on all access to sexually explicit material, (3) a ban on using the Internet to access sexually explicit material, and (4) a requirement to undergo drug testing and substance abuse treatment at the discretion of his probation officer. Canfield appealed, challenging all four conditions.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that the first condition was not specific enough regarding who should be notified regarding what type of risk. The second condition banned adult pornography, which enjoys First Amendment protection. This may only be done if the sentencing court provides some rationale for why it believed the ban would help the defendant’s rehabilitation, not simply stating that it would help his rehabilitation, as was done in this case.

The Court affirmed the third condition, concluding that it is a narrower ban on using the Internet to access sexually explicit material which, the sentencing court noted, was “‘necessary given the history and circumstances of [Canfield’s] offense,’ which included ‘[using] the [I]nternet to illegally obtain and view at least 600 images of child pornography.’” The judge also noted Canfield’s use of the Internet to view pornography in violation of his previous CSR and expressed the belief that this condition would help prevent recidivism by limiting his exposure to individuals on the Internet who might tempt him to reoffend. The Court ruled that this narrow restriction on access to pornography was permissible as it was related to Canfield’s offense and supported by the record.

The fourth condition was not supported by a specific rationale explaining why the condition was necessary, according to the Court. The sentencing court’s expressed general belief that drug use can lead to more crime was insufficient and Canfield’s admission to having smoked marijuana at a co-worker’s party two years earlier was not proof that he was a regular drug user.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the third condition prohibiting Canfield from using the Internet to view sexually explicit material (including chats in chat rooms), vacated the other three CSR, and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. See: United States v. Canfield, 893 F.3d 491 (7th Cir. 2018). 


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Related legal case

United States v. Canfield



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