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Name: In re O.P.
Case #: C066319
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 07/13/2012

Due Process concerns require that Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500 (civil commitment) be construed to contain a requirement of a finding of current dangerousness based on evidence beyond the charges filed against a minor and the minor’s incompetence to stand trial by virtue of mental retardation. Appellant, a “mildly retarded” 13-year-old minor was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. A court found that he was not competent to stand trial. Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500 provides for involuntary civil commitment for those who are mentally retarded and dangerous. Following an 11-day jury trial to determine whether appellant should be civilly committed, the court committed appellant to a developmental center. At trial, the court had instructed the jury with a special instruction that essentially informed the jury that it could find appellant “dangerous” based on the fact that he was deemed incompetent and charged with a violent felony. Although the appeal was moot as it would be decided beyond the commitment period, the court exercised its discretion to hear it because it presented an issue of continuing importance. The appellate court agreed with appellant’s contention that this special instruction resulted in a denial of due process. To withstand a due process challenge, section 6500 must be read to contain an implicit requirement of proof of mental retardation and current dangerousness, and the requisite link between the two. The instruction here did not contain this essential requirement. [Editor’s note: Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500 was recently amended. The amendments included substituting “developmental disability” for “mentally retarded.”]