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Name: People v. Sloan (2023) 93 Cal.App.5th 698
Case #: C095622
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 3 DCA
Opinion Date: 07/17/2023
Summary

The Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) does not permit the prosecution to retain an expert to testify at a trial on the defendant’s status as a sexually violent predator (SVP). The prosecution filed a petition to commit defendant as an SVP. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6600 et seq.) Prior to trial, one of the prosecution’s experts became unavailable. A retained expert was allowed to testify at defendant’s SVP trial, over defendant’s objection. The trial court found defendant was an SVP. On appeal, defendant argued it was error to allow the prosecution to use a privately retained expert at trial. Held: Reversed and remanded for new trial. The SVPA, which authorizes the involuntary civil commitment and treatment of SVPs at the conclusion of their prison term, includes a detailed process for SVP commitment that is centered around multiple evaluations by independent experts. This process expressly provides that a person subject to an SVP petition may retain an expert to testify at trial (§ 6603, subd. (a)). However, there is no similar provision for the prosecutor. Thus, the prosecution has no right to retain an expert witness to testify. Further, the expert witness provisions of the Civil Discovery Act do not apply. The SVPA emphasizes the importance of the independent nature of expert witnesses in order to protect a defendant’s liberty interests. Allowing the prosecution to retain an expert would undermine those safeguards. [Editor’s Note: This issue is pending in the California Supreme Court in Needham v. Superior Court (2022) 82 Cal.App.5th 114, review granted 10/26/2022 (S276395/G060670): Does the SVPA allow the People to retain a private expert to testify at trial as to whether a defendant is an SVP, or are the expert witnesses limited to those designated by the State Department of State Hospitals (Welf. & Inst. Code, §§ 6601 & 6603)?]