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Challenges to reasonableness of mandatory supervision conditions are evaluated under the Lent Standard for probation conditions

People v. Bryant (Cal., July 29, 2021, No. S259956) 2021 WL 3201079, at *1

Summary: The 2011 Realignment Act (Stats. 2011, ch. 15, § 1; Realignment Act or Act) provides for a period of mandatory supervision after a county jail sentence for eligible defendants. The California Supreme Court assessed the validity of a challenged condition of mandatory supervision  and concluded that discretionary conditions are to be evaluated for reasonableness on a case-by-case basis under the test set out in People v. Lent (1975) 15 Cal.3d 481, 124 Cal.Rptr. 905, 541 P.2d 545 (Lent).

Facts: Bryant was convicted of carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle.  (Pen. Code,1 § 25400, subds. (a)(1) & (c)(6).) The court imposed a split sentence (§ 1170, subd. (h)(5)), of two years in the county jail, with the last 364 days to be served at large on mandatory supervision. Over Bryant’s objection, the court imposed the following 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 challenged the search condition as unreasonable under the Lent test. (Lent, supra, 15 Cal.3d 481, 124 Cal.Rptr. 905, 541 P.2d 545.) The Court of Appeal agreed and struck the condition (People v. Bryant (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 396, 406, 215 Cal.Rptr.3d 740 (Bryant I)).  The Supreme Court granted the  People’s petition for review (Bryant I, S241937; rev. granted June 28, 2017) and held the case pending its decision in In re Ricardo P. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 1113, 251 Cal.Rptr.3d 104, 446 P.3d 747 (Ricardo P.). The Supreme Court subsequently directed the Court of Appeal to vacate its decision and reconsider the issue in light of Ricardo P. The Court of Appeal again struck the search condition as unreasonable (People v. Bryant (2019) 42 Cal.App.5th 839, 848, 850, 256 Cal.Rptr.3d 130 (Bryant II)), and the Supreme Court granted review.

California’s classification of crime and punishment

 Before the Realignment Act, felonies were punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison. Misdemeanors were subject to a county jail sentence and infractions could not result in confinement. (See Tracy v. Municipal Court (1978) 22 Cal.3d 760, 765, 150 Cal.Rptr. 785, 587 P.2d 227 [summarizing former law].) Some offenses could be punished as either felonies or misdemeanors. (See People v. Park (2013) 56 Cal.4th 782, 789, 156 Cal.Rptr.3d 307, 299 P.3d 1263.)

Before and after Realignment, except as prohibited by statute, a person convicted of a felony may be placed on probation with imposition or execution of a state prison sentence suspended, and be made subject to a variety of conditions, including a county jail sentence. (See generally §§ 1203.1, subds. (a), (j), 1203.02, 1203.097, 1203.1ab, 1203.1g.) A person sentenced to state prison may be released on parole, which may also entail conditions that are required by statute or imposed at the discretion of the Board of Parole Hearings. (See generally §§ 3053–3053.8, 3067, subd. (b)(3).)

The Realignment Act and  postrelease supervision:

The Realignment Act created two categories of mandatory supervision upon release from jail and postrelease community supervision (PRCS) following service of a prison term. The Act shifts responsibility for the incarceration, rehabilitation, and postrelease supervision of some felons from the state prison system to local jails and probation departments. (Stats. 2011, ch. 15, § 450; § 1170, subd. (h)(1), (2), (5)(A) & (B); Wofford v. Superior Court (2014) 230 Cal.App.4th 1023, 1032, 179 Cal.Rptr.3d 243.) For eligible felony offenders, the trial court must generally impose a split local sentence with execution of a portion of the term suspended and the defendant released from jail under terms of “mandatory supervision.” (§ 1170, subd. (h)(5)(B); see also id., subd. (h)(5)(A).) The court need not suspend part of the incarceration term if it finds that, in the interest of justice, such suspension is not appropriate. (Id., subd. (h)(5)(A).)

While on mandatory supervision, the offender is supervised by the probation department “in accordance with the terms, conditions, and procedures generally applicable to persons placed on probation ….” (Id., subd. (h)(5)(B).) The Postrelease Community Supervision Act of 2011 (Stats. 2011, ch. 15, § 479) created PRCS as an alternative to parole for nonserious, nonviolent felonies. Qualifying offenders serving a felony prison sentence are to be released to the supervision of a county agency rather than the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (§§ 3450–3451; People v. Gutierrez (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 393, 399, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 534.)

Both mandatory supervision and PRCS are new categories of supervision distinct from both probation and parole.

The Realignment Act does not address how the validity of mandatory supervision conditions are to be assessed. To resolve defendant’s challenge the Court of Appeal looked to the Lent test, which historically governed conditions of probation. (Bryant II, supra, 42 Cal.App.5th at pp. 843–844, 849, 256 Cal.Rptr.3d 130.) Applying Lent and Ricardo P., the latter of which involved an electronics search condition of juvenile probation, the Court of Appeal invalidated Bryant’s search condition imposed in the context of mandatory supervision. (Bryant II, at pp. 843–850, 256 Cal.Rptr.3d 130.) The Supreme Court concluded that Lent’s case-by-case analysis for reasonableness should be employed in this new context. A review of the statutory provisions governing mandatory supervision reveals a scheme similar to that governing probationers with respect to the conditions of release. The balance of interests between effective supervision and an individual’s privacy concerns does not substantially differ between probation and mandatory supervision settings.

Electronic Searches

 When it comes to electronics searches we, and the United States Supreme Court, have recognized that the degree of intrusion posed by sweeping access to such devices is great in light of their “ ‘immense storage capacity’ ” and the highly personal nature of the information stored on them. (Ricardo P., supra, 7 Cal.5th at p. 1123, 251 Cal.Rptr.3d 104, 446 P.3d 747, quoting Riley v. California (2014) 573 U.S. 373, 393, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 189 L.Ed.2d 430.) The fact that the Legislature has never required a general electronics search condition for any level of postcustodial release demonstrates that such searches are different from many others.

The Legislature has expressly determined that low-level felony offenders will benefit from “community-based corrections programs and evidence-based practices” to “facilitate their reintegration back into society.” (§ 17.5, subd. (a)(4)–(5).) Employing the Lent test to assess mandatory supervision conditions best implements the Legislature’s stated goals. The trial court retains broad discretion to fashion these conditions subject to review for abuse of that discretion.

An electronics search condition for those on mandatory supervision requires the court to balance the need for meaningful supervision and rehabilitation with the burden imposed by the condition. There may, indeed, be valid reasons for such a condition, but they must be supported by information in the record relating the condition to the defendant’s criminal conduct or personal history. (Ricardo P., supra, 7 Cal.5th at pp. 1120–1123, 251 Cal.Rptr.3d 104, 446 P.3d 747.)

In this case, the Court of Appeal struck the electronics search condition “[b]ecause of the significant burden imposed on Bryant’s privacy interest and the absence of any information in the record to connect the condition with the goal of preventing future criminality ….” (Bryant II, supra, 42 Cal.App.5th at p. 847, 256 Cal.Rptr.3d 130.) This case-specific outcome should not be read to “categorically invalidate electronics search conditions. In certain cases, the [defendant’s] offense or personal history may provide the … court with a sufficient factual basis from which it can determine that an electronics search condition is a proportional means of deterring the [defendant] from future criminality.” (Ricardo P., supra, 7 Cal.5th at pp. 1128–1129, 251 Cal.Rptr.3d 104, 446 P.3d 747.)

The judgment of the Court of Appeal was affirmed.

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