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California Court Upholds Probation Condition Allowing Search of Electronic Information at Any Time


In a recent California juvenile crime case, a state appeals court upheld a probation condition allowing law enforcement to search a juvenile’s electronic data. According to the court’s opinion, the juvenile defendant, who was 15 years old at the time, was involved in a fight at his school. When his teacher tried to break up the fight, the defendant called the teacher a racial slur.

The court convicted the juvenile of a misdemeanor for disturbing the peace on school grounds. The judge sentenced the defendant to probation and imposed certain conditions, including that the defendant’s electronic devices would be subject “to a search of any source of electronic data identified . . . at any time, with or without probable cause, by a peace officer, and provide the peace officer with any passwords necessary to access the data source specified.” The sources of electronic data included text messages, call logs, social media accounts, voicemail history, photographs, and internet browsing history. The defendant was prohibited from using drugs, threatening others with violence, and visiting school grounds without obtaining prior approval.

The defendant appealed the electronic search condition. He argued that it had nothing to do with the misdemeanor offense and was unconstitutionally overly broad. The state argued that the condition was reasonable because it was not overly broad and that it related to potential future criminality.

The court held that the electronic search condition was reasonable. The court explained that a juvenile court has broad discretion to impose conditions of probation for the goal of rehabilitation as long as they are tailored to meet the needs of the juvenile. However, a probation condition will not be upheld if the condition:  1) has no relationship to the offense, 2) relates to conduct that is not criminal, and 3) requires or prohibits conduct that is not reasonably related to future criminality.

The court found that the condition was reasonable in this case. The defendant used a racial slur toward a teacher. He was prohibited from using drugs, visiting school grounds without prior approval, and threatening others with violence. The court found the condition was reasonable because it allowed law enforcement to monitor the defendant’s compliance with those restrictions.

The court also found the electronic search condition was not overly broad. The condition allows law enforcement to search electronic platforms and media that are reasonably likely to reveal evidence of the defendant’s compliance with his probation conditions. In addition, limiting the forms of digital communication in the order reduces the likelihood that law enforcement will access financial records, medical records, or other information not related to criminal activity. Therefore, the appeals court upheld the condition.

Contact a California Criminal Defense Attorney

Probation conditions can be extremely burdensome for individuals on probation, and conditions such as the one described above continue to be challenged in the courts. If you, your child, or another family member has been charged with or convicted of an offense, talk to a criminal lawyer as soon as possible. Attorney John W. Noonan represents individuals in California juvenile cases from his offices in Dublin and Manteca. Attorney Noonan has over 46 years of experience and provides his adult and juvenile clients with the vigorous defense they deserve. Call the office of Attorney John W. Noonan at (925) 886-4281 or contact him online at any time.