California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division
Contra Costa County Superior Court No. 51315225 Honorable Leslie G. Landau Trial Judge.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Patrick McKenna, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.
Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Rene A. Chacon and Nanette Winaker, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.
A jury convicted LaQuincy Hall of possessing cocaine base for sale, and the trial court placed him on probation for three years subject to various conditions. Two of the conditions admonish him to stay away from weapons and illegal drugs. On appeal, Hall argues that these conditions are unconstitutionally vague and therefore must be modified to prohibit him from knowingly violating them. His position conflates principles involving the vagueness of probation conditions with principles involving the mens rea necessary to establish probation violations. We hold that the conditions here are sufficiently precise, and we therefore affirm. We publish our opinion to provide additional guidance in the hope of reducing misguided appeals and unnecessary appellate modifications of probation terms.
When Hall was placed on probation, the sentencing court admonished him as follows: “You must obey all laws and all orders of the Court and of your probation officer. Any willful violation of your probation can result in you being brought back to court and the maximum sentence being imposed.... [¶]... [¶] You may not own, possess or have in your custody or control any handgun, rifle, shotgun or any firearm whatsoever or any weapon that can be concealed on your person.... [¶]... [¶] [A]s further terms of your probation, you may not use or possess or have [in] your custody or control any illegal drugs, narcotics, narcotics paraphernalia without a prescription.”
Hall argues that these conditions are unconstitutionally vague and must be modified to incorporate an express knowledge requirement so that he cannot be found in violation of his probation by unwittingly doing something prohibited, such as carrying a backpack that he does not know contains a weapon or eating a brownie that he does not know contains marijuana. He contends that the weapons condition must be modified to state that he “shall
not knowingly own, possess, or have in his custody or control any handgun, rifle, shotgun, or any other firearm whatsoever, or any weapon that could be concealed on his person.” And he contends that the drug condition must be modified to state that he “shall not knowingly use, possess or have in his custody or control any illegal drugs, narcotics, or narcotics paraphernalia without [a] prescription.”
Hall’s position conflates two separate concepts, vagueness and mens rea. As relevant here, the first involves the idea that a probation condition prohibiting conduct related to a category of associations, places, or items (a category condition) may be-but is not always-unconstitutionally vague unless it expressly requires the probationer to know that an association, place, or item is within the category. The second involves the idea that courts may not revoke probation unless the evidence shows that the probationer willfully violated its terms. This mens rea prevents probation from being revoked based on unwitting violations of probation conditions. Courts sometimes confuse the distinctions between knowledge as it relates to vagueness with mens rea principles, and this confusion has led to imprecise or unnecessary appellate modifications of probation conditions.
A. Category Conditions That Are Unconstitutionally Vague May Often Be Cured by Requiring the Probationer to Know a Particular Association, Place, or Item Is ...