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United States v. Cervantes

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 19, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Steven Cervantes, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted January 13, 2017 Pasadena, California

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California D.C. No. 8:15-cr-00006-DOC-1 David O. Carter, District Judge, Presiding

          Michael Tanaka (argued), Deputy Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Los Angeles, California, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Mark Takla (argued), Assistant United States Attorney, Terrorism and Export Crimes Section; Patricia A. Donahue, Chief, National Security Division; United States Attorney's Office, Santa Ana, California; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Stephen S. Trott, M. Margaret McKeown, and Paul J. Watford, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Criminal Law

         The panel affirmed a conviction and sentence in a case in which police officers conducted a warrantless, suspicionless search of the defendant's hotel room pursuant to a condition of the mandatory supervision the defendant was serving for the final year of his three-year California county jail sentence.

         The panel held that for Fourth Amendment purposes, mandatory supervision is more akin to parole than probation, and that the search was authorized under the search condition because the officers had probable cause to believe that the hotel room constituted "premises" under the defendant's control. Rejecting the defendant's contention that the officers violated California's prohibition against arbitrary, capricious, or harassing searches, the panel noted that, without something more, a suspicionless search is lawful if authorized by a parolee's search condition. Concluding that no Fourth Amendment violation was shown, the panel held that the district court properly denied the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence found in his hotel room.

         The panel held that the defendant had adequate notice of a suspicionless search condition of supervised release imposed in connection with his federal sentence, and that the facts of the case justified the district court's belief that the condition would be necessary to mitigate the exceptionally high risk that the defendant would re-offend during his term of supervised release.

          OPINION

          WATFORD, Circuit Judge.

         Steven Cervantes was convicted in California state court of several non-violent felonies and sentenced to three years in county jail. He served the last year of that sentence on "mandatory supervision, " a form of conditional release that is similar to parole. As a condition of mandatory supervision, Cervantes agreed to submit to warrantless, suspicionless searches of his person, his residence, and any "premises" under his control. We must decide whether a warrantless, suspicionless search of a hotel room Cervantes rented with his girlfriend violated the Fourth Amendment.

         I

         In 2014, Cervantes pleaded guilty to felony counterfeiting and drug offenses in California state court. His plea agreement called for him to receive a "divided" (or "split") sentence under California Penal Code § 1170(h)(5). That provision, enacted as part of California's Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011, requires certain low-level felony offenders to serve their terms of imprisonment in county jail rather than state prison. See People v. Scott, 58 Cal.4th 1415, 1418-19 (2014). Section 1170(h)(5) authorizes the sentencing court to "suspend execution of a concluding portion of the term for a period selected at the court's discretion." Cal. Penal Code § 1170(h)(5)(A). The suspended portion of the term is known as "mandatory supervision, " and it commences upon the defendant's release from custody. § 1170(h)(5)(B). Under the statute, offenders on mandatory supervision are supervised in the same manner as offenders on probation: "During the period of mandatory supervision, the defendant shall be supervised by the county probation officer in accordance with the terms, conditions, and procedures generally applicable to persons placed on probation, for the remaining unserved portion of the sentence imposed by the court." Id.[1]

         The state court sentenced Cervantes to three years in county jail. Pursuant to § 1170(h)(5), the court divided the sentence into two years of imprisonment followed by one year of mandatory supervision. As part of his plea bargain, Cervantes agreed to abide by certain conditions during the period of mandatory supervision, each of which the court formally imposed at sentencing. One of those conditions was a warrantless, suspicionless search condition, which provided as follows: "Submit your person and property including any residence, premises, container, or vehicle under your control, to search and seizure at any time of the day ...


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