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California Supreme Court Announces Mandatory Supervision Conditions Un-der Realignment Act Evaluated for Reasonableness on Case-by-Case Basis Under Lent Test

by Anthony W. Accurso

In a case of first impression, the Supreme Court of California held that conditions of mandatory supervision under the 2011 Realignment Act, Stats. 2011, ch. 15, § 1, are to be assessed on a case-by-case basis using the same standard previously articulated for probation conditions in People v. Lent, 541 P.2d 545 (Cal. 1975).

On August 24, 2014, Clydell Bryant was arrested after officers found an unregistered firearm in his possession. Bryant was smoking cannabis in a car with his girlfriend in a housing complex when officers showed up to investigate a phone call about disturbing the peace.

Bryant was convicted of carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle, along with related findings, under Cal. Penal Code §§ 25400, subds. (a)(1) and (c)(6). The court imposed a split sentence of two years in county jail, with the final 364 days to be served on mandatory supervision under the Realignment Act sentencing scheme.

Despite Bryant’s objection, the court also imposed the following supervision condition: “Defendant is to submit to search of any electronic device either in his possession[,] including cell phone[,] and/or any device in his place of residence. Any search by probation is limited to defendant[’]s text messages, emails, and photos on such devices.”

Bryant appealed the condition, and the Court of Appeal struck it as unreasonable. The State appealed, and the California Supreme Court granted review.

Since California passed the Realignment Act, the Court had not considered what standard should be applied to challenges of conditions of mandatory supervision under the Act.

The Court observed that California has long had both probation and parole as part of its corrections system. The Realignment Act added two new categories of postrelease supervision to this system: (1) mandatory supervision after release from jail and (2) postrelease community supervision (“PRCS”). For certain individuals, the Act “shifts responsibility for the incarceration, rehabilitation, and postrelease supervision … from the state prison system to local jails and probation departments,” the Court stated. See Wofford v. Superior Court, 230 Cal. App. 4th 1023 (2014). Individuals convicted of nonserious, nonviolent felonies may be released, after serving a state prison term, to the supervision of a county agency rather than the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which handles parole. People v. Gutierrez, 245 Cal. App. 4th 393 (2016).

The Court explained that both mandatory supervision and PRCS “are new categories of supervision distinct from both probation and parole. Their distinct status gives rise to the question here.” But the Realignment Act, the Court noted, “does not speak directly to how the validity of mandatory supervision conditions are to be assessed.” It observed that to resolve Bryant’s challenge the Court of Appeal applied the Lent test, which governs conditions of probation.

The Court then announced that “Lent’s case-by-case analysis for reasonableness should be employed in this new context.” It based this decision on a review of the statutory framework “governing mandatory supervision [that] reveals a scheme similar to that governing probationers with respect to the conditions of release,” adding “The balance of interests between effective supervision and an individual’s privacy concerns does not substantially differ between probation and mandatory supervision setting.”

The Court explained that Lent set forth a three-part test when determining the reasonableness of probation conditions: “A condition of probation will not be held invalid unless it ‘(1) 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….’” Lent quoting People v. Dominquez, 256 Cal. App. 2d 623 (1967).

The Court discussed the case of In re Ricardo P., 446 P.3d 746 (Cal. 2019), which involved an electronics search as a condition of probation similar to the present case. In Ricardo P., it was uncontested that the probation condition requiring warrantless search of his electronic devices was unrelated to his burglaries. The Ricardo P. Court ruled that the probation condition failed Lent’s third prong because it was not reasonably related to future criminality, explaining that a probation condition can’t be justified simply on the basis that it somehow enhances the overall supervision of the probationer without consideration of the burden it imposes.

Turning to the present case, the Court similarly concluded that the mandatory search condition failed the Lent test. The Court cited to the People’s own brief in reaching this conclusion: “As the People conceded in the Court of Appeal, Bryant’s electronics search condition would be invalid if assessed under the rubric of Ricardo P., meaning it would be invalid if assessed in the same way as a probation condition.” Based on the fact the Court just declared that the analysis for reasonableness for mandatory supervision conditions under the Realignment Act is the same that’s been used for probationers, the Court stated “We accept that concession.”

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal. See People v. Bryant, 491 P.3d 1046 (Cal. 2021). 

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Related legal cases

People v. Bryant

Wofford v. Superior Court of San Diego

People v. Lent

 

 

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