United States v. Becerra, No. 19-50447

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation977 F.3d 373
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff—Appellee, v. Carlos Saul BECERRA, Defendant—Appellant.
Decision Date06 October 2020
Docket NumberNo. 19-50447

977 F.3d 373

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff—Appellee,
v.
Carlos Saul BECERRA, Defendant—Appellant.

No. 19-50447

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

FILED October 6, 2020


Joseph H. Gay, Jr., Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office Western District of Texas, Diane D. Kirstein, U.S. Attorney's Office Western District of Texas, San Antonio, TX, for Plaintiff - Appellee.

Kristin L. Davidson, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Maureen Scott Franco, Federal Public Defender, Federal Public Defender's Office Western District of Texas, for Defendant - Appellant.

Before King, Stewart, and Southwick, Circuit Judges.

Per Curiam:

Defendant, who pled guilty to child-pornography charges, appeals the district court's imposition of special conditions of supervised release that prevent him from using the Internet, computers, and other electronic devices for the ten years following his initial sentence of 151 months. For the reasons stated herein, we VACATE those special conditions and REMAND to the district court for resentencing proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

In April 2018, FBI agents conducting an online investigation into child pornography identified an Internet Protocol ("IP") address sharing child pornography. The agents traced the IP address to defendant, Carlos Saul Becerra. Three months later, agents executed a search warrant at Becerra's residence and discovered several electronic devices, including laptop computers, mobile phones, and external hard drives. Becerra admitted to agents that the electronic devices belonged to him and that they would find child pornography downloaded onto the devices. Agents conducted a forensic examination of the devices seized from Becerra's residence and identified 11,205 photographs and 538 videos containing child pornography. Becerra had been involved in downloading child pornography for more than four years.

On January 17, 2019, Becerra pled guilty to receipt and distribution of a visual depiction involving the sexual exploitation of a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252(a)(2) and (b)(1), and to possession of a visual depiction involving sexual exploitation of a minor under 12 years of age,

977 F.3d 377

in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252(a)(4)(B) and (b)(2). Following his guilty plea, a probation officer prepared a presentence investigation report ("PSR"). The PSR calculated a total offense level of 32. That total offense level, paired with Becerra's criminal history, resulted in an advisory sentencing range of 151 months to 188 months’ imprisonment. The PSR further recommended various special conditions of supervised release. In relevant part, the PSR recommended that "[t]he defendant shall not possess and/or use computers (as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1030(e)(1) ) or other electronic communications or data storage devices or media," and "[t]he defendant shall not access the Internet." These conditions were "recommended because of the nature and circumstances of the instant offense, to protect the public from further crimes, and to support any of the recommendations made by the therapist during Becerra's sex offender treatment."

Becerra did not object to the PSR at his sentencing hearing. The district court sentenced Becerra to concurrent terms of 151 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by ten years’ supervised release. As part of Becerra's supervised release, the district court imposed, inter alia , the above-referenced special conditions. Becerra did not object to these conditions of supervised release at sentencing and now appeals.

II.

When a defendant "[does] not object to th[e] condition of his supervised release at sentencing, [the court] review[s] for plain error." United States v. Halverson , 897 F.3d 645, 657 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing United States v. Duque–Hernandez , 710 F.3d 296, 298 (5th Cir. 2013) ). To establish plain error, there must be (1) "a legal error or defect that has not been intentionally abandoned"; (2) that is "clear or obvious, rather than subject to reasonable dispute"; (3) that "affect[s] the appellant's substantial rights, which means that the appellant must show that the error affected the outcome of the district court proceedings"; and (4) that "seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings." Id. The appellant "bears the burden as to each of these four [elements]." United States v. Huor , 852 F.3d 392, 398 (5th Cir. 2017).

We review conditions of supervised release in two steps. United States v. Scott , 821 F.3d 562, 567 (5th Cir. 2016). First, we must "ensure that the district court committed no significant procedural error," such as "failing to adequately explain the chosen sentence." Gall v. United States , 552 U.S. 38, 51, 128 S.Ct. 586, 169 L.Ed.2d 445 (2007). Second, we consider "the substantive reasonableness of the sentence imposed." Id.

"A district court has wide, but not unfettered, discretion in imposing terms and conditions of supervised release." United States v. Duke , 788 F.3d 392, 398 (5th Cir. 2015). That discretion is statutorily limited in two ways. First, a condition of supervised release must be "reasonably related," 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(1), to one of four factors provided in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).1 Second, the condition "must be narrowly tailored such

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that it does not involve a ‘greater deprivation of liberty than is reasonably necessary’ to fulfill the purposes set forth in § 3553(a)." Duke , 788 F.3d at 398 (quoting United States v. Rodriguez , 558 F.3d 408, 412 (5th Cir. 2009) ); see also 18 U.S.C. § 3583(d)(2).2

On appeal, Becerra challenges both the procedural and substantive reasonableness of his conditions of supervised release, arguing that the district court failed to explain the reasons for imposing the conditions and that the conditions are overbroad.

III.

We start by addressing whether the district court "committed [a] significant procedural error." Gall , 552 U.S. at 51, 128 S.Ct. 586. According to Becerra, the district court erred by failing to explain its reasons for imposing the computer and Internet conditions of supervised release. The Government responds that the record contains sufficient evidence to support the district court's imposition of the conditions.

Where the district court fails to adequately explain its reasons for imposing a special condition, we "may still affirm a special condition if we can infer the district court's reasoning after an examination of the record." United States v. Alvarez , 880 F.3d 236, 240 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing United States v. Caravayo , 809 F.3d 269, 275 (5th Cir. 2015) ). In this case, the district court provided only a brief explanation for the imposition of the special conditions at sentencing, in its judgment, and in its Statement of Reasons. However, the PSR—which the district court incorporated in its Statement of Reasons—did state that the conditions were "recommended because of the nature and circumstances of the instant offense, to protect the public from further crimes, and to support any of the recommendations made by the therapist during Becerra's sex offender treatment." Considering the PSR's explanation and the fact that Becerra used computers and the Internet in the commission of his offenses, we can infer the district court's rationale for imposing special conditions restricting his computer and Internet use. Accordingly, we find no procedural error.

IV.

Becerra also challenges "the substantive reasonableness of the sentence imposed." Gall , 552 U.S. at 51, 128 S.Ct. 586. Becerra argues that the special conditions of supervised release banning his computer and Internet use are overbroad because they were made...

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