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Name: People v. Barrett
Case #: S180612
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 07/30/2012

In a commitment proceeding under Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500, neither due process nor equal protection require that the committee be personally advised and waive the right to a jury trial. Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500 provides for civil commitment and placement of a person who is “mentally retarded” and a danger to herself/himself or others. A proceeding for commitment commences under certain conditions. Designated persons may request that a petition for commitment be filed. Upon receiving allegations that a person is mentally retarded and dangerous the court must set an evidentiary hearing within a limited time. The court can avail itself of evidence from qualified physicians and psychologists appointed to examine the person and testify as to his/her mentality. The prospective committee’s counsel must be provided notice and the person is entitled to a jury trial. The court held that failure to obtain the person’s personal waiver of a jury trial did not result in a deprivation of due process or equal protection. A person coming within the provisions of section 6500 is not able to sufficiently comprehend jury trial advisements or waive them and such express advisements would have little effect on protecting the person’s rights. The court also held that the defense must affirmatively and timely request a trial and failure to do so results in an enforceable waiver. The court rejected appellant’s equal protection argument because dangerous mentally retarded persons and dangerous mentally disordered offenders who are eligible for an extended 180-day LPS Act commitment are not similarly situated as to the ancillary purpose that an express trial advisement and express personal waiver serve – comprehending and controlling the decision whether to request a jury trial. [Editor’s note: Welfare and Institutions Code section 6500 was recently amended. The amendments included substituting “developmental disability” for “mentally retarded.”]