Select Page

Release Condition: “Defendant May Not Attend any Other Protests … or Public Gatherings in … Oregon” 

What seem to be the latest developments, from Fox23 (Rebecca Boone & Jack Bleiberg):

U.S. court officials in Oregon are reviewing bans on future protesting that were placed on some people arrested during protests in Portland after some raised concerns that the prohibitions violated the First Amendment.

“We’re reviewing every case again right now and looking at the wording of some of the conditions,” Brian Crist, chief pretrial services officer for the U.S. District Court in Portland, said Wednesday. “A lot of this I think will be resolved.”

Crist said he couldn’t comment on individual cases, but he noted the court looks at each defendant individually and doesn’t have “blanket conditions” that are placed on everyone….

The protest bans, first reported by ProPublica, were imposed in at least a dozen cases — most of them involving misdemeanor charges of failing to obey a lawful order. Defendants had to agree to the prohibitions in order to be released from jail while they await trial.

Some of the protest bans were hand-written in the court documents, others were typed out: “Defendant may not attend any other protests, rallies, assemblies or public gatherings in the state of Oregon,” many of the release documents read.

I did a bit of research, and the matter is a bit complicated.

[1.] Generally speaking, the government has a good deal of latitude in imposing conditions on convicted defendants who are released on probation and parole, including conditions that restrict defendants’ speech or association. One way of thinking about it is that the people have been convicted and could be in prison, where their First Amendment rights can be sharply restricted.

[2.] Courts have at times also imposed similar conditions on people who have been indicted (based on a finding of probable cause that they committed a crime) and are awaiting trial. One can imagine a rule saying that you can’t be deprived of liberty at all until you’ve been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, whether by being locked up or by being subjected to pretrial release conditions; but that’s not what our legal system has adopted.

Thus, for instance, in U.S. v. Collins (N.D. Cal. 2012), several defendants was were for interfering with PayPal computers (via a distributed-denial-of-service attack), as retaliation for PayPal’s blocking of service to Wikileaks. The court upheld a pretrial release condition barring the defendants from using Internet Relay Chat (IRC), because the defendants had used IRC to coordinate their attacks:

While any limitation on free speech must be imposed cautiously, and each defendant retains the presumption of innocence during the pretrial period, the IRC restriction in this case furthers a compelling government interest in protecting the public from further crimes coordinated through a means specifically addressed by the grand jury in the language of the indictment. The condition operates in a content-neutral fashion. The condition does not restrict political or any other discourse by any other means, even by use of other internet services such as email, blogging services such as Tumblr, chat other than IRC, or social networks such as Facebook or Google+. All of this suggests to the court that a restriction on IRC use, while permitting substantial internet use for purposes that include political discourse, strikes a reasonable balance between the legitimate and yet competing interests of the parties….

The court also notes that the condition does not impose any burden greater than associational and other First Amendment-impacted restrictions routinely imposed by courts as a condition of pretrial release. See, e.g., United States v. Spilotro (8th Cir. 1986).

But the court set aside the Twitter use condition:

The indictment makes no mention of Twitter whatsoever…. In the absence of any indictment charge, any evidence, or even any specific proffer of such illicit activity [using] Twitter, the court is not persuaded that the restriction advances any legitimate interest in protecting the public’s safety or prevent any defendant from fleeing. Under these circumstances, any illicit use of Twitter by any defendant may be adequately addressed by the monitoring approved elsewhere in this order.

(See also U.S. ex rel. Means v. Solem (D.N.D. 1977), which struck down a much broader, content-based speech restriction.)

The court also rejected a First Amendment challenge to a focused release restriction in U.S. v. Murtari (N.D.N.Y. 2008),

For an extended period Murtari has engaged in various activities in and around the Federal Building [in Syracuse, N.Y.] apparently calculated to draw attention to his cause, in which he advocates for fathers’ rights, and to lend support to his efforts to secure a meeting with Senator Hillary Clinton with the intent to elicit her assistance…. As a result of earlier encounters, defendant has been banned from  entering the Federal Building without permission, other than for required court appearances, and has been arrested on numerous occasions by security personnel assigned to the facility. While the majority of his arrests prior to those now at issue have resulted from the defendant’s entering onto the Federal Building premises and refusing to leave when ordered to do so, some have also involved his refusal to obey explicit directions that he not write in chalk on government property adjacent to the Federal Building.

In connection with two of these prosecutions, a magistrate judge had issued a pretrial order forbidding Murtari from “even entering peaceably onto federal property.” But this, the court said, was permissible:

Without question, a defendant who is under court supervision, including based upon a conditional pretrial release order, does not necessarily forfeit all of his or her First Amendment rights. Consequently, in fashioning suitable conditions to govern the defendant’s release pending trial on the various charges against him in this case, the court was required to do so in a manner which would result in no greater intrusion upon defendant’s constitutional rights, including those guaranteed under the First Amendment, than reasonably necessary in order to effectuate the objectives of the Bail Reform Act, and to additionally insure defendant’s compliance with the court’s order.

The order issued by Judge DiBianco on September 7, 2007 undeniably restricted defendant’s access to a forum which otherwise would be available to him, as a member of the public, for certain activity protected under the First Amendment. That order was issued, however, based upon specific findings by the court that defendant had previously been charged and convicted of engaging in criminal conduct at the Federal Building and had “indicated that he can not assure the Court that he will not engage in identical conduct during the pendency of [the criminal proceedings in which that order was issued].” Under those circumstances I find that the order issued by Judge DiBianco was reasonable and was limited to encroaching upon defendant’s First Amendment rights only to the extent necessary based upon his findings….

Finally, one more example, from U.S. v. Brown (D. Ariz. 2008):

Defendant has been indicted for receiving and possessing child pornography; hence, probable cause exists that Defendant committed these sexually-related  crimes. Mr. Emerick testified that “there is a relationship between viewing sexually explicit pornography depicting consenting adults … and the potential for viewing child images and/or committing hands-on offenses against children.” In view of that relationship, the pretrial release condition that “[t]he defendant shall not access via computer or possess any photographs or videos of sexually explicit conduct …” is a condition that will further protect the public from Defendant, while on pretrial release.

Such a condition directly serves the Government’s “legitimate and compelling” pretrial goal of protecting the public, and constitutes only a limited abridgement of Defendant’s First Amendment rights for a relatively short period of time [citing a probation condition case, and Murtari].

[3.] I couldn’t find any Supreme Court case or appellate case dealing specifically with speech-restrictive pretrial release conditions, but U.S. v. Scott (9th Cir. 2006) dealt with pretrial release conditions that limited defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. (The conditions had allowed warrantless random drug testing and warrantless home searches of people who have been released pending trial.) It was a controversial, 2-1 decision, with seven judges dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc; but Judge Alex Kozinski’s panel majority opinion had this to say:

[There is a] “… well-established principle that parolees and other conditional releasees are not entitled to the full panoply of rights and protections possessed by the general public” … [based on] the “transformative changes wrought by a lawful conviction and accompanying term of conditional release,” and the “severe and fundamental disruption in the relationship between the offender and society, along with the government’s concomitantly greater interest in closely monitoring and supervising conditional releasees,” occasioned by a conviction and imposition of release conditions….

But Scott, far from being a post-conviction conditional releasee, was out on his own recognizance before trial. His privacy and liberty interests were far greater than a probationer’s. Moreover, the assumption that Scott was more likely to commit crimes than other members of the public, without an individualized determination to that effect, is contradicted by the presumption of innocence: That an individual is charged with a crime cannot, as a constitutional matter, give rise to any inference that he is more likely than any other citizen to commit a crime if he is released from custody. Defendant is, after all, constitutionally presumed to be innocent pending trial, and innocence can only raise an inference of innocence, not of guilt.

While the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of pretrial detention on grounds of dangerousness, the Court stressed that the statute it was upholding contained important safeguards, including the requirements that defendant be accused of a particularly serious crime and that dangerousness be proved to a neutral judicial officer by clear and convincing evidence. See Salerno.

Neither Salerno nor any other case authorizes detaining someone in jail while awaiting trial, or the imposition of special bail conditions, based merely on the fact of arrest for a particular crime. To the contrary, Salerno was explicit about what must occur under the federal Bail Reform Act—beyond arrest—before a pretrial criminal defendant could be detained: “In a full-blown adversary hearing, the Government must convince a neutral decisionmaker by clear and convincing evidence that no conditions of release can reasonably assure the safety of the community or any person.”

Thus, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a bail system where pretrial defendants could be detained only if the need to detain them was demonstrated on an individualized basis. The arrest alone did not establish defendant’s dangerousness; it merely triggered the ability to hold a hearing during which such a determination might be made.

It follows that if a defendant is to be released subject to bail conditions that will help protect the community from the risk of crimes he might commit while on bail, the conditions must be justified by a showing that defendant poses a heightened risk of misbehaving while on bail. The government cannot, as it is trying to do in this case, short-circuit the process by claiming that the arrest itself is sufficient to establish that the conditions are required. {Prior convictions and other reliably determined facts relating to dangerousness may be relevant to [a constitutionally adequate individualized determination that might justify certain conditions], but the mere fact that the defendant is charged with a crime cannot be used as a basis for a determination of dangerousness.}

[4.] So here’s my sense of the matter: Courts seem to be open to allowing some pretrial restrictions closely related to the crime of which the defendant is accused, if there’s reason to think that the defendant poses a particular danger of committing the crime (or closely related ones) again. But the restriction needs to be quite narrow; as Prof. Aaron Caplan noted, the “public gatherings” ban would apply to church services and other events that are far removed from the behavior of which the defendants are accused. (At the same time, the breadth of the restriction might be tied to the desire to keep it “content-neutral,” as Collins suggests.) And, under Scott, there would need to be an individualized determination that the person is quite likely to commit such crimes—a determination that would require some evidence beyond just his being accused of such a crime in the current case.

My sense is that this is a pretty significant bar, which the government might not be able to surmount in many cases. At the same time, it’s also a pretty vaguely defined bar, so one can’t speak with clear confidence of this; and it’s closely tied to the particular facts of each case, so it’s hard to speak about it categorically.

Perhaps this legal rule is wrong, and the government shouldn’t be able to restrict people’s First Amendment activities based just on their having been accused of a crime—regardless of the link between the restriction and the alleged criminal conduct, or of the evidence that the defendant is likely to reoffend. Perhaps such restrictions should be allowed (if at all) only on a conviction by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But, rightly or wrongly, our current legal rule seems to be rather more complex and uncertain than that.

This post has been republished with permission from a publicly-available RSS feed found on Reason. The views expressed by the original author(s) do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of The Libertarian Hub, its owners or administrators. Any images included in the original article belong to and are the sole responsibility of the original author/website. The Libertarian Hub makes no claims of ownership of any imported photos/images and shall not be held liable for any unintended copyright infringement. Submit a DCMA takedown request.

-> Click Here to Read the Original Article <-

About The Author

Eugene Volokh

Founded in 1968, Reason is the magazine of free minds and free markets. We produce hard-hitting independent journalism on civil liberties, politics, technology, culture, policy, and commerce. Reason exists outside of the left/right echo chamber. Our goal is to deliver fresh, unbiased information and insights to our readers, viewers, and listeners every day. Visit

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Bringing together a variety of news and information from some of today’s most important libertarian thought leaders. All feeds are checked and refreshed every hour and pages auto-refresh every 15 minutes. External images are deleted after 30 days.

Time since last refresh: 0 second

Publish Your Own Article

Follow The Libertarian Hub


Support Our Work

Support the Libertarian Hub by tipping with Bitcoin!

Weekly Newsletter

Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a weekly email report of the top five most popular articles on the Libertarian Hub!

Weekly Newsletter SignupTop 5 Stories of the Week

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a weekly email report of the top five most popular articles on the Libertarian Hub!