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Name: People v. Jenkins (2023) 95 Cal.App.5th 142
Case #: D081246
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 09/01/2023

Trial court’s order recommitting Mentally Disordered Offender (MDO) reversed because there was insufficient evidence the offender currently represents a substantial danger of physical harm to others. In 1999, in response to paranoid ideation, Jenkins attacked her 82-year-old landlord with a hammer. She was convicted of attempted murder, as well as other charges. In 2014, Jenkins was transferred from prison to a state psychiatric hospital for treatment as an MDO. In 2022, she was recommitted after a bench trial. Jenkins appealed, contending substantial evidence did not support the trial court’s finding that she represented a substantial danger of physical harm to others. Held: Reversed. Even though proof of a recent overt act is not necessary to recommit a person as an MDO, the court cannot overlook the statutory requirement that the person currently poses a substantial danger of physical harm to others. The mental health experts who evaluated Jenkins failed to identify any history of dangerous behavior since her commitment offense in 1999 or explain how their concerns about her mental illness and level of functioning translated into difficulty controlling her dangerous behavior. Additionally, at the time of trial, Jenkins was almost 70 years old and her health was declining. An expert’s conclusion that Jenkins remains “at risk for violence” does not meet the statutory threshold that the defendant “represents a substantial danger of physical harm to others.” [Concurring opinion: Justice Buchanan wrote separately to comment that another troubling feature was the experts’ failure to use standardized violence risk assessment tools in formulating their opinions, noting the use of unstructured clinical judgments to predict a person’s risk of violence has not proven to be accurate.]