California Appellate Court holds searches of smartphones are a proper condition of parole.

In this case, the California Appellate Court, 5th district, held that searching a phone is a proper condition for mandatory supervised release.

On appeal, defendant argued that some conditions of his mandatory supervised release are unreasonable and constitutionally invalid, and his attorney’s failure to object at the sentencing hearing constituted ineffective assistance.

the defendant was charged with felony vandalism based on the amount of damage. The defendant entered into a plea agreement. The probation report recommended a split sentence of jail, followed by mandatory supervised release under several conditions set forth in the report. These conditions included “Submit person and property, including ……………….computers, handheld electronic and cellular devices ………to search and seizure at any time of the day or night by probation officers or any other law enforcement officer, with or without a search warrant, or other process.”

The court sentenced defendant to prison for the charge. The court also ordered that the defendant submit to searches consistent with what the probation department submitted.

On appeal on the particular conditions of interest to us here, the appellate court started its analysis by stating that “it is well settled such search conditions for parolees are reasonable and constitutional because they deter future criminality and allow for more effective supervision of parolees.” The appellate court therefore found that the general search conditions in this case were not unreasonable nor unconstitutional, and defense counsel was not ineffective for failing to challenge them at sentencing.

Turning to the more specific conditions for electronic devices, the Appellate court found that, even though the conduct which brought about the vandalism charge had nothing to do with electronic devices, the “limited record” before it established that these search conditions were reasonably related to preventing defendant’s “future criminality.” He had multiple felony and misdemeanor convictions for theft and drug offenses and convictions for financial offenses of forgery and passing forged checks. They also mentioned repeated violations of prior grants of probation and parole, along with other criminality.

The appellate court rejected constitutional arguments of vagueness and overbreadth based on the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Riley v. California (2014) 573 U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 189 L. Ed. 2d 430. They states that “(n)either Riley nor Carpenter address the constitutionality of search conditions imposed pursuant to parole or supervised release. The defendants in those cases had not been convicted of crimes at the time of the searches, and Riley acknowledged that there could be circumstances where a warrantless search of electronic devices would be valid. Neither Riley nor Carpenter are applicable to defendant’s case.”

After stating that a defendant who has been convicted and sentenced to jail and mandatory supervised release has a diminished expectation of privacy, they held that the “balancing of equities is fundamentally different than in Riley and favors the government……”

The case is People v. Salinas, 2018 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5731, 2018 WL 4026024 (Cal. App. Ct. 5th Dist.) (August 23).

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