Monday, October 24, 2016

The Guilty Plea, “Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a Minor” and Constitutional Overbreadth

This post examines a recent opinion from the Court of Appeal– Fourth District, California: People v. Nachbar, 2016 WL 5799785 (2016). The opinion begins by explaining that
Steven Nachbar pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor more than three years younger (California Penal Code § 261.5(c)).  The court placed him on formal probation and required him to register as a sex offender. Defendant now challenges four of the conditions to his probation: that he (1) not have photographic equipment; (2) not have toys, video games, or similar items that attract children; (3) obtain approval of his residence from his probation officer; and (4) submit to warrantless and suspicionless searches of his computers and recordable media. 
People v. Nachbar, supra.
The Court of Appeals began its analysis by noting that Nachbar “forfeited his challenges to the conditions regarding toys and residence approval because he did not object to them in the trial court.” People v. Nachbar, supra.  In other words, the court would not consider those issues because Nachbar did not object to them when the court imposed those conditions as part of his probation. This post only examines the fourth probation condition, e.g., that Nachbar “submit to warrantless and suspicionless searches of his computers and recordable media.” People v. Nachbar, supra.
As courts usually do, the Court of Appeal begin its analysis of the issue by explaining how, and why, Nachbar was placed on probation:
In April 2014, when defendant was 22 years old, he was placed on summary probation for having unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, a 17–year–old girl. While on probation for that offense, defendant met the victim in this case, a 15–year–old girl. They met through a mutual friend, became friends on Facebook, and exchanged text messages. Several of defendant's text messages were sexually explicit and indicated he wanted to have sex with the victim. Some of the victim's responses were `OMG,’ `LOL,’ and that defendant was too old for her.

The victim's parents are divorced and live down the street from each other. On September 14, 2014, the victim told her father she would be staying at her mother's house that night. Her mother was out of town. The victim and defendant arranged to meet at the mother's house, but she told him he could not stay too long because it was a school night. Defendant arrived around 8:00 p.m. and they tried to watch a movie in the victim's bedroom on her cell phone. When they were unable to do so, the victim asked defendant to leave. Defendant said he wanted to cuddle, but the victim asked him to come back another time.

Instead of leaving, defendant grabbed the victim's breasts; she asked him to stop. Defendant moved his hands toward the victim's pants; she attempted to push his hands away. Defendant removed the victim's shirt and fondled her breasts. He reached underneath the victim's pants and underwear and digitally penetrated her vagina several times; she continued to tell defendant to stop. Defendant removed the victim's pants and underwear, got on top of her, and penetrated her vagina with his penis. The victim asked defendant to stop and was eventually able to push him off of her. She asked defendant to leave, and he exited her bedroom. The victim believed defendant had left the house.

The victim put on her clothes and informed a friend by text message that defendant had just raped her. The friend notified the victim's father, who notified law enforcement. When the victim left her bedroom, she saw defendant sleeping on the couch. When sheriff's deputies arrived, they found the victim crying on the driveway and defendant asleep on the couch.
People v. Nachbar, supra.
The opinion then explains that
[d]eputies woke, arrested, and admonished defendant. He initially denied having any sexual contact with the victim, stating he knew it would be wrong because she was only 15 years old. However, during transport, defendant admitted he digitally penetrated the victim's vagina and had sexual intercourse with her. He denied the victim ever told him `no.’ Defendant said he was `”coming down”’ from having smoked methamphetamine before meeting with the victim.
People v. Nachbar, supra.
Finally, the Court of Appeal outlined the charges that were subsequently brought against Nachbar, the disposition on those charges and the sentence imposed on him:
Defendant was charged in a four-count felony complaint with forcible rape (California Penal Code § 261, subd. (a)(2)); sexual penetration using force (California Penal Code § 289, subd. (a)(1)(A)); unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor more than three years younger (California Penal Code § 261.5(c)) and penetration by a foreign object (California Penal Code § 289, subd. (i)). Pursuant to a plea agreement, defendant pleaded guilty to the unlawful sexual intercourse count and the remaining counts were dismissed.

The probation officer's presentencing report assessed defendant as having a moderate to high risk of committing another sexual offense if released on probation, but stated that his chances of success would likely improve if he were `managed on formal probation with intensive monitoring and case planning. . . .’

The trial court sentenced defendant to 381 days in custody (which was set off by custody credits) and placed him on formal probation for three years. As relevant, the conditions of defendant's probation provide that he (1) not have photographic equipment; (2) not have toys, video games, or similar items that attract children; (3) obtain approval of his residence from his probation officer; and (4) submit to warrantless and suspicionless searches of his computers and recordable media.
People v. Nachbar, supra.
Finally, the opinion explains that the trial court judge
also exercised its discretion to require that defendant register as a sex offender. The court explained that although it understood the Act required that defendant register for life, and that the court thought requiring registration for `10 years or something like that would be appropriate,’ the court nonetheless required that defendant register because of how quickly he reoffended after his prior offense. Both the order granting formal probation and the judgment state defendant is to `[r]egister per . . . [California Penal Code § 290.’
People v. Nachbar, supra.
The Court of Appeal then took up the fourth probation condition imposed on Nachbar, e.g., that he Nachbar “submit to warrantless and suspicionless searches of his computers and recordable media.”  People v. Nachbar, supra.  It began by addressing the “applicable legal principles and standard of review”, as is outlined below.  People v. Nachbar, supra. 
`Following a defendant's conviction of a crime, the sentencing court may choose among a variety of dispositional options. One option is to release the offender on probation. “Probation is generally reserved for convicted criminals whose conditional release into society poses minimal risk to public safety and promotes rehabilitation.” [Citation.] A grant of probation is “qualitatively different from such traditional forms of punishment as fines or imprisonment. Probation is neither `punishment’ [citation] nor a criminal `judgment’ [citation]. Instead, courts deem probation an act of clemency in lieu of punishment [citation], and its primary purpose is rehabilitative in nature [citation].”’ (People v. Moran (California Court of Appeal 5th District 2016) 1 Cal.5th 398, 402, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 491, 376 P.3d 617 (Moran).) Accordingly, `a grant of probation is an act of grace or clemency, and an offender has no right or privilege to be granted such release.’ (Ibid.) `Stated differently, ‘[p]robation is not a right, but a privilege.’” (Ibid.)

Consequently, a sentencing court may impose conditions to further the rehabilitative and protective purposes of probation. (Moran, supra, 1 Cal.5th at pp. 402–403, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 491, 376 P.3d 617.) Under People v. Lent (1975) 15 Cal.3d 481, 124 Cal.Rptr. 905, 541 P.2d 545 (Lent), `”[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. . . .”’ (People v. Olguin (2008) 45 Cal.4th 375, 379, 87 Cal.Rptr.3d 199, 198 P.3d 1, quoting Lent at p. 486, 124 Cal.Rptr. 905, 541 P.2d 545.) `This test is conjunctive—all three prongs must be satisfied before a reviewing court will invalidate a probation term.’ (Olguin, at p. 379, 87 Cal.Rptr.3d 199, 198 P.3d 1; Moran, at p. 403, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 491, 376 P.3d 617.)
People v. Nachbar, supra.
The opinion went on to explain that a
‘probation condition that imposes limitations on a person's constitutional rights must closely tailor those limitations to the purpose of the condition to avoid being invalidated as constitutionally overbroad.’ [Citation.] ‘The essential question in an overbreadth challenge is the closeness of the fit between the legitimate purpose of the restriction and the burden it imposes on the defendant's constitutional rights—bearing in mind, of course, that perfection in such matters is impossible, and that practical necessity will justify some infringement.’ (People v. Pirali (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 1341, 1346, 159 Cal.Rptr.3d 335.)

`As a general rule, failure to challenge a probation condition on constitutional or Lent grounds in the trial court waives the claim on appeal.” (In re Antonio C. (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 1029, 1033, 100 Cal.Rptr.2d 218; People v. Welch (1993) 5 Cal.4th 228, 237, 19 Cal.Rptr.2d 520, 851 P.2d 802 (Welch); In re Sheena K. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 875, 889, 55 Cal.Rptr.3d 716, 153 P.3d 282.)

We generally review the imposition of probation conditions for an abuse of discretion, and constitutional challenges to probation conditions de novo. (People v. Appleton (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 717, 723, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637 (Appleton)).
People v. Nachbar, supra.
The Court of Appeal then began its analysis of Nachbar’s challenge to the probation condition that required him to submit his computers and “recordable media” to “suspicionless searches” by law enforcement personnel.  People v. Nachbar, supra.   More precisely, it began by noting that Nachbar argued that the “the probation condition that requires him to submit his computers and recordable media to suspicionless searches is unconstitutionally overbroad.”  People v. Nachbar, supra.
The opinion goes on to explain that to
support his position, defendant cites the Sixth District Court of Appeal's recent decision in Appleton, supra, 245 Cal.App.4th 717, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637. The defendant in that case pleaded guilty to false imprisonment by means of deceit as part of a plea bargain after initially being charged with oral copulation with a minor, whom he had met via a social media smartphone application. (Id. at pp. 719–720, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637.) The defendant was placed on probation, one of the conditions of which provided that the defendant's electronic devices `shall be subject to forensic analysis search for material prohibited by law.’ (Id. at p. 721, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637.) The defendant appealed this condition on Lent and constitutional grounds. (Id. at pp. 721–722, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637.)

The Court of Appeal found the electronics-search condition did `not run afoul of the first Lent factor requiring ‘no relationship to the crime’ (Appleton, supra, 245 Cal.App.4th at p. 724, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637), but concluded the condition was unconstitutionally overbroad (id. at pp. 725–727, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637). The court reasoned the condition `would allow for searches of vast amounts of personal information unrelated to defendant's criminal conduct or his potential future criminality’ (id. at p. 727, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637), such as his `medical records, financial records, personal diaries, and intimate correspondence with family and friends’ (id. at p. 725, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637). In reaching this conclusion, the Appleton court relied on the Supreme Court's rationale in Riley v. California (2014) 134 S.Ct. 247 (Riley), which held that a warrantless search of a suspect's cell phone incident to arrest implicated and violated his Fourth Amendment rights. (Riley, at p. 2493.) The Supreme Court emphasized the wealth of information contained in modern cell phones. (Id. at pp. 2489–2490.) The Appleton court struck the probation condition and remanded for the trial court to fashion one more narrowly tailored. (Appleton, at pp. 728–729, 199 Cal.Rptr.3d 637.)
People v. Nachbar, supra.
The opinion went on to explain that,
[m]ore recently, in In re J.E. (2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 795, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 28, our colleagues in the Court of Appeal for the First District, Division Four, concluded the Riley court's privacy concerns in the context of a search incident to arrest are inapposite in the context of determining the constitutional reasonableness of probation conditions allowing searches of electronic devices. (In re J.E., at pp. 803–804, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 28.) As the In re J.E. court explained, unlike the defendant in Riley `who at the time of the search had not been convicted of a crime and was still protected by the presumption of innocence,’ a probationer does not enjoy  ‘“the absolute liberty to which every citizen is entitled.’” (In re J.E., at p. 804, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 28.) That is, “ ‘Just as other punishments for criminal convictions curtail an offender's freedoms, a court granting probation may impose reasonable conditions that deprive the offender of some freedoms enjoyed by law-abiding citizens.’ ” (Ibid. quoting United States v. Knights (2001) 534 U.S. 112, 119).

The court recognized that although electronics may be a `”bottomless pit”’ of personal information, `courts have historically allowed . . . probation officers significant access to other types of searches, including home searches, where a large amount of personal information—from medical prescriptions, banking information, and mortgage documents to love letters, photographs, or even a private note on the refrigerator—could presumably be found and read.’ (Id. at p. 804, fn. 6, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 28.) The court noted the absence of evidence in the record indicating the probationer's electronics contained any of these types of sensitive information. (Ibid.) The court further noted that the Supreme Court in Riley clarified that although cell phone data is subject to Fourth Amendment protection, it is not `”immune from search.”’ (In re J.E., at p. 804, 205 Cal.Rptr.3d 28, quoting Riley, supra, 134 S.Ct. at p. 2493.) The In re J.E. court thus concluded that although the probationer's right to privacy was implicated by the electronics search condition, the right was not violated under the circumstances. (Id. at p. 805.)
People v. Nachbar, supra (emphases in the original).
The Court of Appeal therefore found the court’s decision in In re J.E.
persuasive. As a defendant who has pleaded guilty to a felony and accepted probation in lieu of additional punishment, defendant has a diminished expectation of privacy as compared to law-abiding citizens or those subject to searches incident to arrest. Thus, we conclude the privacy concerns voiced in Riley are inapposite in the context of evaluating the reasonableness of a probation condition.

We further conclude the probation condition is suitably tailored in light of the substantial protective and rehabilitative concerns demonstrated by the record. The condition is related to defendant's crime because he communicated with his victim via social media, sent her sexually explicit text messages, and intended to watch a movie with her on a mobile device on the date of the offense.5 Defendant reoffended with a younger victim within a matter of mere months, while already on probation. His psychological evaluation revealed he is sexually attracted to adolescents and `has some emotional difficulties and anxieties regarding interpersonal relationships that place him at a higher risk for engaging in sexual acts with younger persons.’ And the probation officer reported defendant had a moderate to high risk of reoffending if released on probation, and his chances of success would likely improve if he were `intensive[ly] monitor[ed].’ Under these circumstances, we conclude the probation condition allowing searches of defendant's computers and recordable media is reasonable.
People v. Nachbar, supra.
The Court of Appeal therefore affirmed the judgment of the lower court. People v. Nachbar, supra.


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