Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant was convicted of infliction of physical or mental suffering on children within a person's custody and sentenced to five years of probation, participation in a counseling program, exclusion from visits with her children, and a condition that she not conceive a child during the probationary period. Defendant appealed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A condition of probation that restricts a fundamental right will be unconstitutional if it is impermissibly overbroad.
Ruby Pointer (Defendant) was the mother of two young children, Jamal and Barron. Defendant followed a strict macrobiotic, low-calorie diet and made sure her children did as well, despite repeated warnings from various doctors of the dangers of such a diet for children. Doctors asked Defendant to stop the diet for both herself and her children and to cease breastfeeding. Defendant refused to listen, and eventually, she brought Jamal to Dr. Rao, who had him admitted to the hospital, because he was near death due to malnutrition. Even during Jamal’s hospitalization, Defendant would sneak him the dangerous macrobiotic food. Once released, Jamal was placed in foster care. Defendant subsequently abducted Jamal and went to Puerto Rico, where she was later arrested. Upon the family’s return to California, doctors found that both children were severely underdeveloped, and Jamal had experienced permanent brain damage, resulting from the forced diet. Defendant was charged and convicted of violating Penal Code § 273 and § 278.5, which punish the infliction of physical or mental suffering on children within a person's custody. Defendant was sentenced to five years of probation, participation in a counseling program, exclusion from visits with her children, and a condition that she not conceive a child during the probationary period. Defendant appealed, arguing that the prohibition on conception was an unconstitutional infringement upon her fundamental rights to privacy and procreation.
Whether a condition of probation that restricts a fundamental right will be unconstitutional if it is impermissibly overbroad.
Yes. The trial court’s ruling is reversed and the case is remanded for resentencing and to give the trial court a chance to choose a specific alternative condition. A condition of probation that restricts a fundamental right will be unconstitutional if it is impermissibly overbroad.
When a probationary condition restricts the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right, it must be subjected to special scrutiny. It is important when such rights are involved to determine whether the restriction is absolutely necessary to serve rehabilitation and public-safety interests. Before reaching this especially protective constitutional analysis, any condition of probation must first pass a reasonableness test. A condition is unreasonable if it: (1) is completely unrelated to the underlying conviction; (2) relates to non-criminal conduct; and (3) regulates conduct not reasonably related to future actions. Here, the probationary condition prohibiting conception passes the reasonableness test, because the condition is related to child endangerment, which is the crime for which Defendant was convicted. It may be assumed that harm to a future child may occur before birth through Defendant’s own diet, and thus removing a child from her custody after birth would not solve the problem. The record supports the conclusion that Defendant would continue the dangerous diet, despite the danger it poses to a child. Though reasonable, the condition must still survive strict scrutiny, because it involves the fundamental right to privacy. Here, the condition was meant to protect the public by preventing injury to an unborn child. However, this purpose can be sufficiently served by alternative restrictions that are more respectful of Defendant’s right to procreate. For example, potential alternatives include mandatory pregnancy testing and an intensive prenatal care and supervision program upon pregnancy. The instant condition makes it more likely that Defendant will be untruthful if a pregnancy does occur in order to avoid harsh penalties, which would make it more difficult to monitor and enforce than other restrictions. For these reasons, the probationary condition prohibiting conception is overbroad and therefore unconstitutional.