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United States v. Beardsley

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 13, 2019



          Nora Barry Fischer Senior United States District Judge

         On March 26, 2010, Defendant Christopher Beardsley (“Defendant”) waived prosecution by indictment and pled guilty to one count of possession of child pornography, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4)(b), for which he was sentenced on December 20, 2010, to a term of 36 months' imprisonment followed by a 10-year term of supervised release.

         In May 2019, the Probation Office alleged in a supervised release violation petition that Defendant violated certain conditions of his supervision.[1] (Docket No. 90). At a hearing held on August 21, 2019, the Court found that Defendant violated the conditions as alleged, revoked his supervised release and sentenced him to a term of one-day imprisonment[2] followed by three (3) years' supervised release with the first nine (9) months to be served in community confinement at Renewal, Inc. (Docket Nos. 104, 105). The Court's Judgment requires Defendant to abide by all of Renewal's rules while housed at that facility. (Docket No. 105 at 4).

         As relevant here, Renewal requires a federal resident who is employed to pay a subsistence fee of 25% of his gross income to encourage fiscal responsibility.[3] See Renewal, Inc. Federal Reentrant Guidebook (Jan. 2017) (hereinafter, “Guidebook”) at 18, 20. The Court recognizes that Renewal has the authority to impose such a fee on federal residents. See Murray v. Grondolsky, 369 Fed.Appx. 318, 320 (3d Cir. 2010) (“The subsistence program, which requires inmates to pay a portion of the cost of the RRC, is a condition of placement in the RRC imposed to encourage financial responsibility in order that inmates may reintegrate into society. The subsistence program arises from BOP policy and emanates from the BOP's general statutory authority to manage the prisons.”).

         On September 17, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion to Order Renewal to Waive Subsistence Fee, claiming that the fee would create an undue financial hardship on him and his wife. (Docket No. 108). Defendant approximated that his prior month's wages were $3, 174.36 and his monthly expenses were $2, 620.79, thus he had $553.57 to pay for food, clothing and other unforeseen expenses. (Id. ¶ 3). Other than offering to supply the Court with a copy of his income and monthly expenses if requested, (see id., n.1), Defendant did not initially provide any additional information or documentation to substantiate his assertion that the fee would create a financial burden for him.

         The Government and Probation Office objected to Defendant's request to waive the subsistence fee, arguing that the fee is an important aspect of Defendant's sentence because it provides additional incentive for him to adhere to the conditions of his supervision upon release from residential housing. (Docket No. 110, ¶ 4). The Government observed in its response that Defendant earns a good living and some of his monthly expenses are discretionary, such as a loan payment for a second vehicle even though Defendant's wife does not drive. (Id. ¶ 5). In order to accurately calculate Defendant's household income, the Probation Officer attempted to obtain information from defense counsel concerning his wife's monthly disability income but did not receive a response concerning that matter. (Id. ¶ 6).

         In reply, Defendant argued that it would be fundamentally unfair for Defendant's wife to pay their regular monthly expenses with her disability payment given that she is not under supervision. (Docket No. 117 ¶ 1, n.1). Defendant also clarified that his wife's mother uses the second vehicle they own to drive his wife when she has transportation needs. (Id. ¶ 3). Finally, Defendant claimed that he provided a good faith estimate of his income, but he anticipates that his work hours will decrease due to winter weather conditions and because he must miss work on occasion to attend group treatment or training classes. (Id. ¶ 4).

         In order to properly consider Defendant's motion, the Court requested defense counsel to provide documents concerning Defendant's monthly income and expenses. Those documents included the following:

• Paychecks from the weeks of July 29, 2019, August 5, 2019 and August 12, 2019, indicating that Defendant's gross pay was $1, 268.80, 1, 038.11, and 1, 176.62, respectively.
• A handwritten note dated August 27, 2019, signed by “The Beardsley's, ” indicating that an unspecified neighbor agreed to cut grass at their property for the months of September and October 2019 and resume in March 2020 and shovel snow as needed at a rate of $200 per month. There is no accompanying invoice, receipt or other verification for these services from the neighbor.
• Another handwritten note dated August 27, 2019, signed by “The Beardsley's, ” stating that they spoke to someone at a Downtown Pittsburgh parking garage, who indicated that parking “would be $150 a month minimum.” Again, there is no invoice, receipt or other documentation to substantiate this fee.
• Monthly credit card and utility bills from Bank of America (automobile loan payment for 2017 Elantra showing a principal balance of $11, 309.13 and a monthly payment of $223.66), Ally (automobile loan payment for 2018 Chevrolet truck showing a balance of $6, 675.20 and a monthly payment of $160.99), Amica ($245.38 for automobile insurance for both vehicles), Verizon Fios ($183.50 for television, internet and home telephone), Verizon Wireless ($128.30 for cell phone service), People's Gas ($141), Wilkinsburg Penn Joint Water Authority ($45.04), Discover (credit card balance of $5, 025.33 with a minimum payment of $101), Guitar Center/Synchrony Bank (credit card balance of $1, 833.54 with a minimum payment of $85), Borough of Pitcairn ($93.84 for electric and trash), mortgage (principal balance of $55, 037.86 with a monthly payment of $516.08), Comenity - Kay Jewelers (credit card balance of $1, 784.01 with a minimum payment of $90), and child support ($200 per month).

         Although the Court does not have the resources to investigate each of Defendant's expenditures, the Court has reviewed his monthly expenses and finds them to be reasonable overall, except for the unverified expenses for lawn services and parking in Downtown Pittsburgh.[4] The Court recognizes that Defendant's wife is disabled and may require transportation assistance, which justifies ownership of a second vehicle for someone to utilize when driving her to appointments since Defendant requires his own vehicle to commute to work. It is also essential for Defendant to meet his child support obligation each month and to continue paying his legitimate household expenses and utility bills so that he and his wife can maintain their residence. Given the nature of Defendant's work in the construction field, his earnings may decrease in the winter months, but any decrease could be offset by him obtaining unemployment compensation if he qualifies. Furthermore, the Probation Officer advised that Renewal has not required Defendant to pay the subsistence fee for the past two months while his motion was being litigated thus resulting in a financial windfall for that period.

         Against this background, the Court must determine whether the subsistence fee should be waived as Defendant urges. To that end, the Court has considered the various cases referenced by the Probation Officer and defense counsel wherein other judges of this Court have authorized waiver of Renewal's subsistence fee.[5] Notably, in those cases, the defendant did not have a job, a residence, or both, thus the subsistence fee was waived so that he could save money in order to obtain appropriate housing upon release. Unlike those cases, Defendant is employed with a good paying job and owns a residence. Accordingly, the Court believes ...

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