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Name: People v. Stevens
Case #: S209643
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 12/10/2015

A mental health expert’s testimony in support of a defendant’s MDO commitment may not be used to prove the defendant committed qualifying offenses (Pen. Code, § 2962, subd. (e)(2)(A)-(O)) or that the offense involved certain behaviors (§ 2962, subd. (e)(2)(P), (Q)). Stevens was convicted of petty theft with a prior (Pen. Code, § 666) and sentenced to 32 months in prison. Before he was paroled, proceedings were initiated to commit Stevens as an MDO based on the contention that he committed the crime with threats of force or violence. At a bench trial, a psychologist testified that Stevens’ offense involved the threat of force or violence likely to produce physical harm to others. (See Pen. Code, § 2962, subd. (e)(2)(Q).) The psychologist had relied on a probation report to reach this conclusion. Over Stevens’s objection, the trial court found the psychologist’s hearsay testimony relating the contents of the probation report to be substantial evidence that Stevens’ petty theft conviction was a qualifying prior conviction. The court ordered Stevens committed as an MDO. He appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed and remanded. The court here considered two Court of Appeal decisions that had previously addressed the MDO Act’s requirements for proof that a defendant has met the MDO criteria, and the legislative history of the MDO Act. In People v. Barker (2012) 204 Cal.App.4th 1234, the court held that the prosecution may not rely on expert opinion testimony as independent proof of the facts surrounding the crime or to support a finding that the crime involved force or violence under the MDO Act. A prior case, People v. Miller (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 913, 917-918, had reached the opposite conclusion. The Supreme Court disapproved of Miller, finding it “inconsistent with the MDO Act and the rules of evidence [Evid. Code, § 801, subd. (a)] regarding the proper scope of expert opinion testimony.”