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United States v. Ford

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

February 23, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
STEVEN ANTHONY FORD, Defendant-Appellant.


          Ryan J. Villa, The Law Office of Ryan J. Villa, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Appellant.

          Marisa A. Ong, Assistant United States Attorney (James D. Tierney, Acting United States Attorney, with her on the brief), Las Cruces, New Mexico, for Appellee.

          Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, MORITZ, and EID, Circuit Judges.

          TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge.

         The district court sentenced Steven Ford to twenty years' imprisonment for various firearms-possession charges, followed by three years of supervised release. Because of a sex-offense conviction nineteen years earlier, the district court placed sex-offense-specific conditions on Ford's term of supervised release. Specifically, the court required Ford to undergo a sex-offender assessment, and if recommended by the assessment, to submit to treatment which could include polygraph questioning about his sexual past.

         Ford contends on appeal that the district court abused its discretion because the sex-offender conditions are not reasonably related to the sentencing factors in 18 U.S.C. § 3583. We hold that, notwithstanding Ford's long custodial sentence and new life sentence for a different crime, Ford's challenge is ripe for review. We further hold the district court did not abuse its discretion by requiring Ford to undergo a sex-offender risk assessment as a condition of supervised release.

         I. Background

         In 1998, a Kansas state court sentenced Steven Ford to ten years' imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to a charge of Indecent Liberties with a Child. The victim was a thirteen-year-old girl.

         While serving time for the sex-offense conviction as well as other crimes, in 2007 Ford escaped from a maximum-security prison in Kansas. Law enforcement found Ford in New Mexico and brought federal charges for (1) being a felon in possession of a firearm; (2) being a fugitive in possession of a firearm; and (3) possessing stolen firearms. A jury convicted Ford on all counts and the court sentenced Ford to 360 months' imprisonment.

         In October 2016, Ford filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 motion seeking to vacate his sentence, and in February 2017, the district court granted the motion. At the re-sentencing hearing the following month, the district court sentenced Ford to 240 months' imprisonment, to run consecutively to his state terms of imprisonment in Kansas. The court also sentenced Ford to supervised release for three years after completion of his custodial sentence.

         Among several special conditions for Ford's supervised release, the court imposed two sex-offender-specific conditions. First, the court required Ford to "undergo a sex offense-specific assessment to determine the level of risk for sexual dangerousness, recidivism, and amenability to treatment and formulate treatment recommendations if treatment is necessary." R., Vol. I at 92. Second, "[i]f recommended in the sex offense-specific assessment, " Ford "must begin attending and participating in sex-offender treatment consistent with the recommendations of the evaluation." Id. Treatment can include "clinical polygraph examinations" if they are "directed by the probation officer and/or treatment provider." Id.

         Ford's attorney objected to these special conditions. The offenses before the court were the firearms convictions, he argued, and Ford's only prior sex-offense was in 1998-at this point nineteen years before-when Ford was only seventeen years old.

         The court explained the special conditions were "based on his prior sex offense conviction engaging in sexual acts with a 13-year-old girl" and "further, that there ha[d] been no indication that the defendant ha[d] ever received sex-offender-specific treatment." R., Vol. IV at 10. The conditions were "reasonable and justified" because Ford had not undergone a "sex-offense-specific assessment, largely because he'[d] been in prison virtually his entire life." Id. at 12. Though it could "be that after the assessment nothing is recommended, " the court thought it "appropriate to have the assessment done." Id. at 13. The conditions thus remained.

         Ford appealed the reasonableness of the district court's decision to attach those two conditions to his supervised release. While this appeal was pending, in a proceeding unrelated to this case, Ford pleaded guilty to the murder of his cellmate in an Oklahoma state prison and an Oklahoma court sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

         II. Analysis

         Ford challenges the sex-offender conditions because they are linked to a crime that occurred long before his federal conviction. In addition to arguing the conditions were reasonable, the government asks us to defer ruling on the reasonableness of the conditions on ripeness grounds. Since Ford's long terms of incarceration mean he may never begin his period of supervised release, the government argues that prudence counsels against reviewing Ford's conditions of supervised release at this time. Before we reach the merits, then, we must address the government's argument that we should exercise our discretion under the prudential ripeness doctrine and decline to review Ford's challenge.[1]

         A. ...

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