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Name: People v. Nguyen
Case #: E048880
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 04/22/2011
Subsequent History: Review granted 8/10/11: S193545

There is no statutory right for the committed offender to attend SVP (Sexually Violent Predator) recommitment proceedings, but there is a due process right to be present. Counsel does not have authority to waive the client’s presence. Any error in this special proceeding of a civil nature is evaluated under the standard of Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, 24. The error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Out of 37 hearings, the client was only transported once to court inadvertently and for the majority of the time was unwilling to participate in both treatment and the proceedings. There was communication between counsel and client and there was no indication that he wished to be present. It is unlikely that his presence would have changed the cross-examination of experts who had evaluated him.
An equal protection argument based on the disparity of treatment between SVP commitments and those of MDO’s (Mentally Disordered Offenders) did not prevail because there are statistical reasons to treat the two classes of offenders differently. People v. McKee (2010) 47 Cal.4th 1172 held the two groups met the threshold of being similarly situated for the purpose of placing the burden on the People to justify the differential treatment. The difference in length of confinement and conditions of confinement is the result of a valid exercise of state power if there are different degrees of dangerousness perceived as to the class of persons. The MDO must be found to be amenable to treatment, whereas amenability to treatment is not required for SVP’s. SVP’s represent a very small number of dangerous people who are kept from society based on their complex and compulsive disorder. They have a very poor prognosis for successful treatment such that only 2.9% successfully complete the treatment program. They have a much higher rate of recidivism than the risk posed by MDO’s. The evidence presented at trial provided sufficient justification to defeat the equal protection claim.