Today, the Eighth Circuit ruled that a district court goes too far when it attempts to limit a defendant’s ability to procreate.
Christopher Harris, a convicted felon, fathered ten children out of wedlock with seven different women. After Harris was caught illegally possessing firearms, the district court took it upon itself to curtail Harris’s procreation, which the court viewed as a “very serious social problem.” So the court crafted a special condition of supervised release that the Eighth Circuit accurately described as “novel.” The court ordered that Harris not engage in “unprotected sex activities without probation office approval.” Harris, apparently not wanting to run these things by his probation officer when he’s released in 2029 (he got a fifteen year sentence), appealed.
The Eighth Circuit, Judge Colloton writing, held that the district court lacked authority to impose the special condition:
For one thing, the special condition as pronounced is even broader than the novel restriction on fathering children that the court seemed to contemplate during the hearing. By restricting “unprotected sex activities,” without limitation, the condition purports to regulate conduct that could not result in pregnancy. The condition is not even reasonably related to the purposes that motivated the condition.
There were other problems with the restriction. There was no showing, for example, that Harris’s sexual activity was “related to his unlawful possession of a firearm.” The restriction also involved a greater deprivation of liberty than was necessary to provide deterrence and protect the public from future crimes. In short, the district court “sought to address a perceived social problem that does not have the required nexus to factors that guide sentencing in a federal criminal case.”