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Name: People v. Superior Court (Vasquez)
Case #: B287946
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 09/12/2018

Trial court properly dismissed SVP petition for violation of defendant’s right to speedy trial based on 17-year delay caused by “systemic breakdown in the public defender system,” which was attributable to the state. In 1995 Vasquez was convicted of sex offenses against minors. Prior to his release in 2000, the prosecution filed a petition to commit him as a Sexually Violent Predator (SVP). Vasquez was confined in state hospitals for over 17 years awaiting trial on the petition. A series of public defenders failed to move the case forward. Beginning in 2014, serious cutbacks in the public defender’s funding and staffing further slowed preparation for trial. Vasquez objected when his fifth attorney requested a continuance. The trial court relieved the public defender’s office and appointed a panel attorney. The new attorney moved to dismiss the petition for violation of Vasquez’s speedy trial right. Citing the factors in Barker v. Wingo (1972) 407 U.S. 514 and Mathews v. Eldridge (1976) 424 U.S. 319, the trial court dismissed the petition. The prosecution petitioned for writ of mandate. Held: Petition denied. The SVP Act allows involuntary civil commitment of an offender whose mental illness predisposes him to commit sexually violent acts. The Act does not establish a deadline for trial, but commitment for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection under the Fourteenth and Sixth Amendments’ guarantee to a speedy trial. Here, the 3-year delay from 2014 to 2017 resulted from a “systemic breakdown in the public defender system” which “forced Vasquez to choose between having prepared counsel and a timely trial. Yet under our Constitution he is entitled to both.” Given the length of delay, his Hobsen’s choice between a speedy trial and effective assistance, the “oppressive” prejudice, and the state’s responsibility for the delay, there was no error.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: