California Court of Appeals affirms search of computers and electronic devices as valid condition of probation.

The Fifth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals, in a lengthy unpublished opinion covering many unrelated issues, affirmed conditions regarding probation.

The defendant here pursued an unsuccessful insanity defense for the crime of a lewd and lascivious act towards his niece. After being found guilty, the court sentenced the defendant to probation with some conditions that are at issue in this appeal.

After affirming the finding of guilt, the Court of Appeals moved on to the contested probation conditions. The relevant condition appealed for our purposes was one to “disclose all email addresses, passwords and membership websites.” This way, the probation officer can search the defendant’s computer and devices at will.

The Defendant made vagueness and overbreadth challenges to this condition. After discussing the U.S. Supreme Court holdings in Riley and Carpenter, the court discussed other cases that allowed electronic devices to be searched as a condition of probation. The court then decided that Riley and Carpenter have no applicability to this case. They also decided that, “(i)n the absence of further guidance from the United States or California Supreme Court, we find that such search conditions may be constitutional. In this case, however, the People concede that the court’s order is “unclear” about whether defendant must disclose ‘passwords to membership websites or just passwords to email addresses,’ and whether membership websites are ‘encompassed within internet social websites.’ The court’s order is also vague as to how defendant will comply with this condition.”

The case was remanded to clarify the scope of the court order regarding what passwords the defendant must disclose.

The case is People v. Torres, 2018 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 7111, Court of Appeal of California, Fifth Appellate District, October 16.

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