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Name: People v. Foster
Case #: S248046
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 08/22/2019

Opinion by Justice Liu (unanimous)
Redesignation of MDO’s felony conviction to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47 does not undermine the validity of his initial commitment in 2010 and does not alter the criteria governing his eligibility for recommitment as an MDO. Foster pleaded guilty to felony grand theft. In 2010, he was admitted to a state hospital as an MDO as a parole condition. His commitment was extended several times. In 2016, he successfully petitioned to have his conviction redesignated as a misdemeanor under Proposition 47. The trial court denied Foster’s motion to dismiss his recommitment as an MDO on the basis that the redesignation of his theft offense meant he no longer had a qualifying offense for his MDO recommitment. He appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed and the California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Affirmed. One of the six criteria for an initial MDO commitment is a qualifying felony conviction. (See Pen. Code, § 2962, subd. (b), (e).) This requirement is “static” or “foundational,” meaning it concerns a past event that once established is incapable of change. The redesignation of Foster’s felony as a misdemeanor under proposition 47 does not undermine the validity of his initial civil commitment, which was legally sound at the time the determination was made. The criteria to recommit Foster as an MDO are solely comprised of three “dynamic” factors, focusing on the continued existence of a mental disorder and dangerousness to others. The redesignation of Foster’s conviction as a misdemeanor does not alter the criteria governing Foster’s recommitment as an MDO. While it is true that Foster would not be eligible for initial commitment as an MDO if he committed his theft offense today, his present ineligibility for initial commitment is not determinative of his recommitment, as the procedures are governed by different standards and a showing of changed circumstances is an insufficient basis for precluding recommitment where he has already completed his initial commitment. The court distinguished People v. Buycks (2018) 5 Cal.5th 857.

Equal protection principles do not compel a different result. Foster argued that a failure to hold the redesignation of his qualifying felony as a misdemeanor eliminates the basis for his continued commitment would violate equal protection principles under In re Smith (2004) 42 Cal.4th 1251 and other cases. In Smith, the court construed the SVP Act, which requires a qualifying felony offense to support civil commitment of an offender determined to be an SVP, and held that if the prosecutor seeks to continue SVP proceedings against someone whose present conviction has been reversed, they must retry and reconvict him. Even assuming that MDOs are similarly situated with SVPs, Foster has not shown any differential treatment. The cases cited by Foster involve situations where the felony was reversed while the SVP commitment proceedings were “pending,” whereas here Foster’s initial commitment occurred years ago, and there is no dispute he was validly convicted of a qualifying felony at the time that determination was made. [Editor’s Note: The court expressed no view on whether a different analysis would result if an MDO’s qualifying offense were reversed on appeal after his one-year period of initial commitment had run and the defendant challenged the recommitment proceedings, or if the redesignation of the felony occurred during the pendency of an initial commitment proceeding or during the initial one-year commitment period.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: