United States v. Wells, No. 19-10451 (9th Cir. 2022)
Nature of Case: Appellant pled guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to receipt of child pornography. He was sentenced to 76 months’ imprisonment followed by five years of supervised release. In addition to the standard conditions of supervised release, the district court imposed 16 special conditions of supervised release. The plea agreement also included a waiver of right to appeal stating in relevant part, “I agree to give up my right to appeal the judgment and all orders of the Court. I also give up my right to appeal any aspect of my sentence.”
On appeal, Appellant challenges Special Condition Nos. 3 and 5. Special Condition No. 3 bans the possession and use of any computer without prior approval of the probation officer and Special Condition No. 5 bans the access to any internet or online computer service without approval of the probation officer. Appellant makes three constitutional arguments focused on these special conditions, including: (1) Special Condition No. 3 (computer ban) is unconstitutionally vague; (2) Special Condition No. 5 (internet ban) violates his First Amendment rights; and (3) both conditions are an unconstitutional delegation of authority because the conditions contain language that specify that the restrictions are subject to the approval of the probation officer.
Holding: The Court of appeals found that Appellant knowingly and voluntarily agreed to the plea agreement and the waiver to appeal his sentence. Even so, the Court concluded that a waiver of the right to appeal a sentence does not apply if (1) the defendant raises a challenge that the sentence violates the Constitution; (2) the constitutional claim directly challenges the sentence itself; and (3) the constitutional challenge is not based on any underlying constitutional right that was expressly and specifically waived by the appeal waiver as part of a valid plea agreement.
Following that determination the Court analyzed Appellant’s constitutional claims. The Court dismissed Appellant’s First Amendment and delegation of authority claims but found that Special Condition No. 3 is unconstitutionally vague and requires clarification. Specifically, the Court stated, “The definition of ‘computer’ under the condition potentially could be understood to encompass common household objects, An ‘electronic, magnetic, optical, electrochemical, or other high speed data processing device performing logical, arithmetic, or storage functions’ can include devices such as smart kitchen appliances…even though such appliances are not capable of receiving, storing, or otherwise processing materials of child pornography.” Because such a condition is unconstitutionally vague, the Court vacated and remanded that condition to the district court to delineate explicitly that the prohibition only covers computers and computer-related devices that can access sexually explicit conduct.