Friday, September 11, 2015
Supreme Court to Hear Case on Probation Requirements
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a probation condition is unconstitutionally vague if it is capable of being unintentionally violated and fails to contain a specific scienter requirement.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco Wednesday, granted review in People v. Hall (2015) 236 Cal. App. 4th 1124. While other panels have held that such conditions are unenforceable unless modified to add the knowledge requirement, the Hall court said such modification was unnecessary, at least under the facts of that particular case.
“[The defendant’s] position conflates principles involving the vagueness of probation conditions with principles involving the mens rea necessary to establish probation violations,” Presiding Justice James Humes wrote for the First District Court of Appeal, Div. One.
“We publish our opinion to provide additional guidance in the hope of reducing misguided appeals and unnecessary appellate modifications of probation terms,” the jurist wrote. The high court’s grant of review, however, means the opinion may not be cited as precedent.
The Supreme Court is presently considering a proposal to allow citation of opinions in cases in which review has been granted, as long as the lower court is informed of the grant of review. Public comments on the proposal are due Oct. 9 after the court recently extended the deadline.
LaQuincy Hall was placed on probation in Contra Costa Superior Court for three years after a jury found him guilty of possessing cocaine base for sale. He was ordered to stay away from weapons and illegal drugs, and argued on appeal that those conditions were unconstitutional for lack of a requirement that he have knowledge of the fact that such items were in his possession or vicinity.
Otherwise, the defense argued, Hall could have his probation revoked if he were, for example, to carry a backpack into which a weapon had been placed without his knowledge or if he were to eat a brownie that he did not know contained marijuana.
Humes rejected the Third District’s approach, taken in several cases, of incorporating a blanket knowledge requirement into all such “category conditions” by operation of law, explaining:
“Probationers and probation officers cannot be expected to know, understand, and adhere to implied terms that, even if binding on them as a matter of law, are neither expressed by the sentencing court nor set forth in the written probation conditions. We believe that explicitly modifying vague conditions better ensures due process by informing ‘the probationer . . . in advance whether his [or her] conduct comports with or violates a condition of probation.’”
In some cases, however, a category condition is not vague solely because it lacks a specific knowledge requirement,” he said. “Prohibiting probationers from possessing guns or drinking alcohol is simply not nebulous, and it is unlike prohibiting them from activity involving an ambiguous category of associations, places, or items, such as associating with a gang member (whether known or unknown). In our view, there is no need to explicitly require a probationer to know that something falls within a prohibited category when the category is essentially clear.”
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