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Name: People v. G.A. (2023) 93 Cal.App.5th 1126
Case #: A164980
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 07/25/2023

Welf. & Inst. Code section 6500, which guides the involuntary commitment of persons with developmental disabilities found to be a danger to themselves or others, does not violate due process by dispensing with the need for proof of a recent overt act of dangerousness. In 2010, the People filed a felony complaint charging G.A. with multiple sex crimes against minors. After finding G.A. incompetent to stand trial, the trial court ordered G.A. committed pursuant to section 6500 et seq. In August 2021, the People filed a petition to extend G.A.’s commitment, alleging that G.A. suffered from moderate developmental disability, and that he represented a danger to himself or others. A trial was held, in which a psychologist testified as to G.A.’s condition. The court granted the petition to extend the commitment, which expired in August 2022. G.A. appealed. Held: Appeal dismissed as moot, but merits addressed as important and recurring issues of law. Under section 6500(b)(3), “[i]f the person with a developmental disability is in the care or treatment of a state hospital, . . . proof of a recent overt act . . . is not required in order to find that the person is a danger to self or others.” Due process does not require proof of a recent overt act to establish dangerousness, so long as the commitment is predicated upon proof of “current dangerousness” to self or others and not merely a prosecutor’s allegation that an incompetent person committed a prior violent felony. This reflects a rational policy choice by the Legislature: when a person with a developmental disability is in the care of a facility, the supervised nature of the environment may provide little or no opportunity for the commission of overt acts of danger to oneself or others.

Substantial evidence does not support the finding of dangerousness to others where it is based on the testimony of an expert witness whose opinion relied on unsupported assumptions of fact. The psychologist at trial provided an expert opinion that G.A. posed a current danger to others, particularly children. The psychologist based his opinion primarily on G.A.’s alleged past instances of misconduct, including unspecified records of incidents charged in 2001 and 2010. The People did not identify or present the documents in question, and offered no evidence supporting the veracity of their contents. Nor was there any other evidence showing that G.A. actually engaged in the prior incidents of misconduct. When an expert’s opinion is based on assumptions of fact without evidentiary support, it has no evidentiary value. Because the psychologist’s opinion of G.A.’s current dangerousness to others relied on unsupported assumptions of fact, it did not suffice as substantial evidence supporting G.A.’s recommitment. [Editor’s Note: The court declined to decide whether substantial evidence supported the finding of G.A.’s dangerousness to himself, since this case was moot. However, the court noted “significant ambiguity” as to the meaning of the statutory term “danger to self” under section 6500(b)(1), which seemed to potentially overlap with the definition of “gravely disabled” under the LPS Act. The court decided to leave construction of the statute to a future case, noting that justice partners or community providers may be interested in providing their input as amici curiae in future proceedings.]

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