United States v. Reeves, 591 F.3d 77 (2d Cir. 2010)
Reeves is an important case in the development of penalties for child pornography offenders.
Specifically, Reeves was convicted of possession of child pornography, and was sentenced principally to 40 months imprisonment. The district court, however, set a special condition of supervised release that obligated Reeves, upon entry into a "significant romantic relationship," to notify the United States Probation Department and inform the other party to the relationship of his conviction. On appeal, Reeves challenged the special supervised release condition. And he prevailed.
Initially, the Second Circuit noted that "[i]f a condition, however well-intentioned, is not sufficiently clear, it may not be imposed" because of due process concerns. Specifically, a defendant "has a due process right to conditions of supervised release that are sufficiently clear to inform him of what conduct wil result in [the defendant] being returned to prison." A condition is unconstitutionally vague, in turn, when "men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application." The Second Circuit then found that the condition imposed by the district court was unconstitutionally vague. As described by the Second Circuit (with literary flourish):
We easily conclude that people of common intelligence (or, for that matter, of high intelligence) would find it impossible to agree on the proper application of a release condition triggered by entry into a “significant romantic relationship.” What makes a relationship “romantic,” let alone “significant” in its romantic depth, can be the subject of endless debate that varies across generations, regions, and genders. For some, it would involve the exchange of gifts such as flowers or chocolates; for others, it would depend on acts of physical intimacy; and for still others, all of these elements could be present yet the relationship, without a promise of exclusivity, would not be “significant.” The history of romance is replete with precisely these blurred lines and misunderstandings. See, e.g., Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro (1786); Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (Thomas Egerton, 1814); When Harry Met Sally (Columbia Pictures 1989); He's Just Not That Into You (Flower Films 2009).
Additionally, it bears noting that the Second Circuit found that the condition "effects an unnecessary deprivation of liberty, because it is not reasonably necessary for deterrence, the protection of the public, or rehabilitation, and, in addition, is not narrowly tailored."