In conservatorship proceedings, it was error for special jury instructions to inform about the duration and types of treatment that may be ordered if a conservatorship is established, but the error was harmless. A jury found that P.D. was gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 5000 et seq., the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act. P.D. appealed, arguing that two special jury instructions improperly permitted the jury to consider the duration and types of treatment that may be ordered if a conservatorship was established. Held: Affirmed. The LPS Act authorizes the superior court to appoint a conservator of the person for one who is gravely disabled. The proposed conservatee has a right to a jury trial on the question of grave disability, which exists when “as a result of a mental health disorder, [the person] is unable to provide for his . . . basic personal needs for food, clothing, or shelter.” (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5008, subd. (h)(1)(A).) The Court of Appeal here concluded that information about the consequences of the conservatorship is irrelevant to this question, and it was error to give the special instructions. However, there was no miscarriage of justice. Other instructions properly stated the burden of proof and identified the sole question for the jury’s consideration. The Public Guardian focused on the elements and the burden of proof, and did not refer to the special instructions in the opening statement and closing argument. The evidence was not close and there was no indication that the jury was confused about its task. The standard of reversal that applies in criminal cases did not apply here because LPS proceedings are civil, but even under Chapman the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B281606.PDF