Indefinite civil commitment of SVP defendant reversed where trial court admitted “massive amounts” of inadmissible hearsay. In April 2009 appellant was committed to the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) for an indefinite term as a sexually violent predator (SVP). While his first appeal was pending he received a favorable annual examination, which resulted in a recommendation that, while he was still a pedophile, appellant was no longer dangerous, and merited treatment in a less secure setting. Based on this evaluation, he petitioned for unconditional release. The jury concluded appellant remained an SVP and he was recommitted. He appealed, claiming he was prejudiced by the admission of “massive amounts” of inadmissible hearsay during a prosecution expert’s testimony. Held: Reversed. Hearsay evidence is inadmissible “except as provided by law” (Evid. Code, § 1200, subd. (b)). Multiple levels of hearsay must meet the requirements of admissibility at each level (Evid. Code, § 1201). An expert may tell the jury the reasons for his opinion, but prejudice may arise where the expert reveals to the jury incompetent hearsay evidence. Here, the trial court abused its discretion by admitting testimony of the prosecution’s expert, Dietz, concerning numerous entries and information he saw in appellant’s state hospital records. (See People v. Dean (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 186.) This hearsay evidence cast appellant in a very bad light as someone who refused to follow rules, had no concern for others, engaged in forms of violence, and exhibited biased behavior. As it was reasonably probable the jury would have reached a more favorable verdict had it not heard this evidence, reversal was required.
Appellant’s confrontation issue need not be resolved in light of the reversal. Appellant claimed his confrontation rights were abridged because Dietz was allowed to testify regarding numerous hearsay statements contained in appellant’s hospital records. The confrontation clauses of the state and federal constitutions only apply in criminal cases, although there is a confrontation component to a civil committee’s due process rights. However, the Court of Appeal did not decide appellant’s confrontation issue in light of its reversal of judgment.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/G049785.PDF