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Name: In re L.O.
Case #: A151967
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 09/26/2018

Preventing minor ward’s access to social media websites as a condition of probation violates the First Amendment and requires modification of the term. The minor was granted probation following the juvenile court’s true finding he committed misdemeanor battery and had four prior offenses. The terms of his probation subjected him to searches of his electronic devices and barred him from using social networking websites. On appeal, the minor challenged the probation conditions as unconstitutional. Held: Probation term prohibiting access to social media websites modified. When the juvenile court places a minor on probation it may impose reasonable conditions to the end that justice may be done and the rehabilitation of the ward enhanced. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 730, subd. (b).) However, probation terms are subject to constitutional limitations. “A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more.” (Packingham v. North Carolina (2017) 528 U.S. ___ [137 S.Ct. 1730, 1735.) An important forum for the exercise of free speech is social media websites. Thus, a term of probation barring the minor’s access to social media altogether was unconstitutionally overbroad, as this absolutely prohibited him from engaging in the legitimate exercise of his First Amendment right. To render the probation term constitutional, the Court of Appeal modified the condition to provide the minor could access social media with the express permission of his probation officer and that all Internet usage was subject to monitoring by his parents, probation, or school officials.

The minor forfeited his objection that the electronic search condition of probation was unreasonable under People v. Lent because he failed to object in the juvenile court. A trial court has broad discretion to impose reasonable conditions of probation. A condition is invalid under People v. Lent (1975) 15 Cal.3d 481, only if 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. Judicial discretion to set the terms of probation is further restricted by constitutional considerations. The minor argued the electronic search conditions of probation violated Lent and were constitutionally overbroad. However, the minor’s challenge to the search terms were not a facial challenge presenting pure questions of law (In re Sheena K. (2007) 40 Cal.4th 875), but depended on a review of the facts specific to his case. The failure to object therefore forfeited both the Lent issue and constitutional challenge on appeal.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: