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Name: People v. Frahs
Case #: S252220
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/18/2020

Opinion By: Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye (unanimous decision)
The mental health pretrial diversion statute for defendants with qualifying mental disorders is retroactive to cases that were not final when the statute became effective (June 27, 2018). Frahs was found guilty of two counts of robbery. At trial he presented evidence of his mental disorder. While his case was pending, the Legislature enacted Penal Code section 1001.36, which created a pretrial diversion program for defendants with mental disorders. The Court of Appeal agreed with his argument that this statute should be retroactively applied to him and conditionally reversed. The prosecution’s petition for review was granted. Held: Affirmed. In In re Estrada (1965) 63 Cal.2d 740, the court held that an amendatory statute which lessens punishment for a crime was retroactive to all cases not yet final. In People v. Superior Court (Lara) (2018) 4 Cal.5th 299, the Estrada rule was applied to Proposition 57, which mitigated the possible punishment for juveniles by prohibiting the direct filing of criminal cases against them in adult court. Similarly, section 1001.36, mitigates possible punishment for defendants with qualifying mental disorders. It allows for pretrial diversion and requires: (1) a qualifying mental disorder; (2) the disorder played a significant role in the offense; (3) a mental health expert opinion that the behavior would respond to treatment; (4) that defendant consent to diversion, waive speedy trial, and agree to comply with treatment; and (6) no unreasonable risk of danger to public safety if defendant is treated in the community. If the defendant satisfactorily completes diversion, the criminal charges are dismissed. This program confers an ameliorating benefit to a class of defendants by affording them the opportunity for diversion. Further, there is no savings clause or indication of legislative intent that it be applied prospectively only, to overcome the presumption in Estrada that it should apply to all nonfinal cases. [Editor’s Note: The court disapproved the opinions in People v. Lipsett (2020) 45 Cal.App.5th 569, review granted 5/13/2020 (S261323); People v. Khan (2019) 41 Cal.App.5th 460, review granted 7/29/2020 (S259498); and People v. Craine (2019) 35 Cal.App.5th 744, review granted 9/11/2019 (S256671), to the extent they are inconsistent with the opinion in this case.]

A conditional limited remand for the trial court to conduct a mental health diversion eligibility hearing is warranted when the record affirmatively discloses that the defendant appears to suffer from a qualifying mental disorder. The prosecution argued that remand for a mental health diversion hearing was inappropriate in this case because Frahs failed to show he was eligible for relief on appeal. The Supreme Court disagreed. A defendant is not required to demonstrate that he satisfies all six threshold eligibility requirements before an appellate court may remand the case to the trial court for a diversion eligibility hearing. The fact that the trial court determined there were no “significant mitigating factors” that weighed in favor of striking Frahs’ prior enhancement did not conclusively establish that remand would be futile. A trial court could find that the criteria for diversion are satisfied even if that court believed defendant’s mental disorder did not significantly reduce his culpability for the crimes. The fact that a defendant is ineligibility for probation also does not disqualify him from mental health diversion. The court concluded that a conditional limited remand for “a mental health diversion eligibility hearing is warranted when, as here, the record affirmatively discloses that the defendant appears to meet at least the first threshold eligibility requirement for mental health diversion—the defendant suffers from a qualifying mental disorder.” Here, there was evidence in the record that appeared to support the first threshold eligibility requirement, and another requirement. A clinical and forensic psychologist testified that defendant suffers from a qualifying mental disorder and opined that his behavior during the offense was a consequence of this disorder. “This evidence suffices to make a conditional limited remand appropriate here.” [Editor’s Note: The court did not address the following questions: (1) Whether an appellate court may decline a defendant’s remand request when the record clearly indicates the trial court would have found the defendant “pose[s] an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety” and is therefore ineligible for diversion. (2) Whether the 2019 amendments, which rendered defendants charged with certain crimes categorically ineligible for diversion, apply retroactively.]

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