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Name: People v. Allen
Case #: S148949
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 07/28/2008

A defendant has a state and federal constitutional right to testify at a jury trial proceeding under the Sexually Violent Predator Act, over the objection of his counsel, but denial of the right to testify is subject to harmless error analysis under Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18. In 2005, a jury trial was held after the prosecution filed a petition to extend appellant’s commitment as a sexually violent predator. At trial, the prosecution presented testimony of two psychologists retained by the State Department of Mental Health to evaluate appellant and testimony of a psychiatrist employed at Atascadero State Hospital where appellant had been confined. All the experts opined that appellant met the criteria for an extended commitment–the underlying 1990 offenses were sexually violent and predatory in nature; appellant suffered from paraphilia; his behavior during confinement was inappropriate; and he refused medication. Although appellant presented no evidence, he advised the court he wished to testify and made an offer of proof that he would testify that the committing rapes were actually consensual; he was willing to take medication; and his confinement behavior was not inappropriate as hospital staff had flirted with him. Defense counsel expressed his desire that appellant not testify and the court declined to allow appellant to testify, finding that it was obliged to respect counsel’s tactical decision. The jury found true the allegation that appellant met the criteria of a sexually violent predator and the court order appellant confined for two years of commitment. The Supreme Court ruled that the trial court erred in denying appellant the opportunity to testify. The Court agreed that the statute did not provide for a right to testify and observed that since the SVPA proceeding was civil, procedural protections provided criminal defendants did not apply, even though some of the act’s protections, such as a right to jury trial, provided procedural protections similar to those afforded criminal defendants. However, because a civil commitment under the act involves a significant deprivation of liberty, due process provides defendant with a right to testify over the objection of counsel. Despite the implication of the constitutional right, a denial of the right to testify is not structural error requiring automatic reversal, but instead is assessed under the Chapman harmless error analysis. Under this measure, considering appellant’s proffered testimony, the error in prohibiting him from testifying over the objection of his attorney was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.