The 9th Circuit Upholds the Freedom to Drink a Beer


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recently rejected a probation requirement that would have forced Marcus Betts, a former TransUnion employee who pleaded guilty to fixing people's bad credit reports in exchange for bribes, to abstain from alcohol for three years. The court deemed the requirement an abuse of discretion, noting that it was not reasonably related to a legitimate criminal justice goal, as required by federal law:

No one suggests that alcohol played any role in Betts's crime. And there was no evidence that Betts had any past problems with alcohol. Under these circumstances, we think it impossible to say that the condition imposed bears a reasonable relationship to rehabilitating the offender, protecting the public, or providing adequate deterrence.

In so concluding, we join the other two circuits to have faced this precise question….

The statute permits a discretionary supervised release condition to be imposed only "to the extent that such condition…involves no greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary for the purposes set forth" in sections 3553(a)(2)(B), (C), and (D). Moderate consumption of alcohol does not rise to the dignity of our sacred liberties, such as freedom of speech, but the freedom to drink a beer while sitting in a recliner and watching a football game is nevertheless a liberty people have, and it is probably exercised by more people than the liberty to publish a political opinion. Liberties can be taken away during supervised release to deter crime, protect the public, and provide correctional treatment, but that is not why it was taken away in this case.

A PDF of the ruling is available here.

[Thanks to Eric Sterling, by way of Allen St. Pierre]