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California Court of Appeal: Electronics Searching Condition Struck in Mandatory Supervision Case

by Anthony Accurso

The Court of Appeal of California, Second Appellate District, held that a condition imposed during a mandatory supervision period that required the defendant to submit to searches of any electronic device in his possession was overly broad and unrelated to preventing future criminality.

Clydell Bryant was charged and convicted of carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle and separately that the firearm was loaded and not registered to him. This occurred as a result of a vehicle search by an officer who noticed the smell of marijuana coming from a vehicle occupied by Bryant one night in August 2014.

The superior court imposed a two-year term of incarceration while suspending the last 364 days in favor of mandatory supervision under Penal Code § 1170(h)(5)(B). Over Bryant’s objection, the court imposed a condition of supervision requiring that he submit to searches of any electronic devices in his possession at any time, but limited the searches to his texts, emails, and photos. This was ostensibly to enforce other, more pertinent, bans on contraband, weapons, or gang activity.

On appeal to the Supreme Court of California, the Court of Appeal deferred consideration until it ruled In re Ricardo P., 446 P.3d 746 (Cal. 2019), a similar case. After that case was decided, the California Supreme Court remanded Bryant to the Second District for a ruling in compliance with Ricardo P.

A similar condition to Bryant’s was struck down in Ricardo P. because the court ruled that the “very heavy burden on privacy” had a “very limited justification” where “nothing in the record suggests that the probationer has ever used an electronic device or social media in connection with criminal conduct.” The condition in Ricardo P. was imposed because the court believed he might brag about probation violations on social media.

The Supreme Court said this condition violated the restrictions on probation conditions set forth in People v. Lent, 541 P.2d 545 (Cal. 1975). Under Lent, a court abuses its discretion by imposing a condition that “(l) has no relationship to the crime of which the offender was convicted, (2) relates to conduct which is not in itself criminal, and (3) requires or forbids conduct which is not reasonably related to future criminality.”

“This test is conjunctive — all three prongs must be satisfied before a reviewing court will invalidate a … term.” People v. Olguin, 198 P.3d 1 (Cal. 2008).

In Bryant’s case, the People conceded the condition fails under the first and second prongs of Lent. However, it argued the condition was reasonably related to preventing future criminality. The Second District, applying Ricardo P., rejected this argument. It quoted the California Supreme Court by saying the People’s rationale “would effectively eliminate the reasonableness requirement in Lent’s third prong, for almost any condition can be described as enhancing the effective supervision of a probationer.”

The People also argued that probationers were granted more protections than individuals on parole or mandatory supervision, and thus Lent should not be applied. However, the Second District rejected this, quoting § 1170(h), which states conditions for mandatory supervision “shall be … in accordance with the … conditions … applicable to persons placed on probation.”

Accordingly, the Court held that the condition of mandatory supervision requiring Bryant to submit to searches of his electronic devices constitutes an abuse of discretion under Lent and struck that condition. See: People v. Bryant, 42 Cal. App. 5th 839 (2019). 

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Related legal case

People v. Bryant

 

 

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