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People v. Lent: Evaluating Mandatory Supervision Terms

As the reader of this article may already know, when AB 109 became applicable as the law in 2011, realigning our prison system to have certain non-violent, low-level felony offenders serve prison sentences in county jails, supervision of such inmates upon release was known as “mandatory supervision,” not parole.  Probation officers, not parole officers, then supervised the recently released prisoners.
In a Nutshell: Under People v. Lent, there is a three-part test to evaluate the reasonableness of any probation condition or term of mandatory supervision (i.e., “AB 109 Probation”).  It is important to consider each condition on a case-by-case basis, as a condition may be invalid in one case, but valid in another.
The conditions of mandatory supervision were set by the judge, just as a judge sets terms of probation.  However, AB 109 did not speak directly as to how the validity of mandatory supervision terms were to be assessed.

Over the years, however, courts have held that the reasonableness of such terms is evaluated on a case-by-case basis under the test set out in People v. Lent (1975) 15 Cal. 3d 481.

To exemplify how the People v. Lent standard is applied, the recent California Supreme Court opinion in People v. Clydell Bryant is good to know.

Late on August 24, 2014, Glendale police officers responded to a disturbing the peace call outside a housing complex.  Officers arrived to find a number of people gathered around two cars in the parking lot.  Clydell Bryant and his girlfriend, Lasmaine Jones, were smoking marijuana in a car owned by Jones’ mother.  A search of the vehicle revealed a loaded, semi-automatic handgun under the seat Bryant had occupied.  The gun was not registered and bore DNA matching Bryant.

art_1545_-_california_supreme_court__san_francisco_.jpgCA Supreme Court San Francisco

Bryant was later convicted of carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle (Penal Code § 25400(a)(1) and (c)(6)).  The Glendale judge imposed a split sentence calling for two years in county jail with the last 364 days to be served on mandatory supervision.

The judge also imposed the following condition for Bryant’s mandatory supervision: “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 reasonableness of the search condition as unreasonable under the Lent test.  Such a test is a three-part test: “A condition of probation will not be held invalid unless (1) it has no relationship to the crime of which the defendant was convicted; (2) relates to conduct which is not itself criminal, and (3) requires or forbids conduct which is not reasonably related future criminality. . .”  People v. Lent, supra, at 486.

The Second Appellate District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles agreed with Bryant that the condition was unreasonable.  The People then appealed to the California Supreme Court.

The California Supreme Court then affirmed the court of appeal.  It began its analysis by noting that the electronic search conditions imposed a significant burden 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. 

Such a condition cannot be imposed based on “an abstract or hypothetical relationship between the probation condition and preventing future criminality.”  In re Ricardo P. (2019) 7 Cal. 5th 1113.  It also cannot be imposed based on a general belief that all defendants on mandatory supervision are more prone to recidivism, justifying such a condition.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye wrote a separate, concurring opinion that explained that she wanted the majority opinion to be viewed narrowly, not broadly.  First, while the analysis of any probation condition is on a case-by-case basis, as In re Ricardo P., supra, authorized certain probation conditions as reasonable under Lent “simply by reference to the offense of conviction, without any additional case-specific balancing of benefits and burdens.”  In re Ricardo P. at 1134.

Second, mandatory supervision conditions, while not regarded as parole conditions, must also not be evaluated as probation conditions.  Mandatory supervision conditions do not fit neatly under either condition and mandatory supervision, unlike probation which is “generally reserved for convicted criminals whose conditional release into society poses minimal risk to public safety and promotes rehabilitation (People v. Carbajal (1995) 10 Cal.4th 1114, 1120; see also People v. Moran (2016) 1 Cal. 5th 398, 402, citing People v. Anderson (2010) 50 Cal. 4th 19, 32 (“probation is an act of grace or clemency”)).  Mandatory supervision, on the other hand, is imposed only when a court had determined that probation is not appropriate.  See Penal Code §§ 1170(h), 1203; People v. Fandinola (2013) 221 Cal. App. 4th 1415, 1422).

Third, the majority noted the “sweeping nature” of an electronic device search condition.  Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye noted that if the condition is limited, as here, to just text messages, emails and photographs, it can reasonable.

The citation for the California Supreme Court ruling discussed above is People v. Clydell Bryant (2021) 11 Cal. 5th 976, 281 Cal. Rptr. 3d 663, 491 P. 3d 1046.

For more information about the reasonableness of probation conditions, please click on the following articles:
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