Court Allows Probation to Restrict Gambling

United States v. Jodi Lynn Budzynski

Case No. 20-1264

2020 WL 6938293 (6th Cir. Nov. 25, 2020)

Decided: November 25, 2020

After pleading guilty to five counts of fraudulently obtaining Social Security benefits, Defendant Jodi Lynn Budzynski owed Uncle Sam some money.  Ms. Budzynski was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to repay more than $48,000 in restitution.  Only a few months after she was sentenced by the district court, her probation officer asked the district court to restrict the defendant’s gambling habits.

Ms. Budzynski knows her way around the casino.  Between April 2012 and September 2018, Ms. Budzynski obtained a total of $48,306.11 in overpayments from the Social Security Administration.  She failed to report that she was living with her ex-husband, who provided financial support, and had been the lucky recipient of significant casino winnings on eleven separate occasions.

After sentencing, Ms. Budzynski admitted to visiting casinos during a home visit by her probation officer.  Because Ms. Budzynski had not paid her restitution in three months (since her probation had begun), the probation officer took the issue to the court.  It asked to modify Ms. Budzynski’s probation by adding three new conditions – including that Ms. Budzynski refrain from visiting gambling establishments or participate in any form of gambling, along with reasonable searches of her person, property, and electronic communications by a probation officer only when they possessed a reasonable suspicion of probation violations.  The district court agreed with the probation office, and imposed these new conditions.  Ms. Budzynski appealed.

Ultimately, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s modified probation conditions.    The Court found that the district judge adequately justified the no-gambling condition based on Ms. Budzynski’s background.  The no-gambling condition met the statutory requirement for imposing discretionary conditions, which must be “reasonably related to the factors set forth in section 3553(a)(1) and (a)(2) and involved only such deprivation of liberty or property as are reasonably necessary….”  18 U.S.C. § 3563(b).  The Court also noted Ms. Budzynski’s history with casinos and failure to report winnings.  While Ms. Budzynski’s convictions are not gambling-related, she must repay her lost to the government.

In its opinion, the Sixth Circuit distinguished this case from a Seventh Circuit case wherein the court held a gambling restriction was overly broad.  See United States v. Silvious, 512 F.3d 364 (7th Cir. 2008).  In that case, the defendant did not have a history of gambling problems, whereas Ms. Budzynski was, undeniably, a gambler, and the probation office could prove it.

Ms. Budzynski also challenged the search condition.  However, the Supreme Court has upheld warrantless searched of a probationer’s home based on the special needs of the system.   See Griffin v. Wisconsin, 483 U.S. 868, 876 (1987).  After analyzing Fourth Amendment issues and other precedent, the Sixth Circuit held that Ms. Budzynski’s search condition were directly related to the § 3553(a)(2) factors of promoting respect for the law, affording adequate deterrence to criminal conduct, and protecting the public from further crimes.  Again, the Court distinguished this matter from another Seventh Circuit case, where the court gave no reason for why is imposed a broad search condition.  See United States v. Farmer, 755 F.3d 948, 954 (7th Circuit 2014).

Importantly, this is the first published opinion from the Sixth Circuit finding that modifications of probation are reviewed merely for an abuse of discretion.  This case reveals the discretion district courts and probation officers can use when imposing conditions on probationers.  Based on this recent Sixth Circuit precedent, the district court must prove the conditions fit the person, the offense, and the punishment’s purpose.  If the conditions check those boxes then they are likely permissible.