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Name: People v. Wright
Case #: B269705
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 10/24/2016
Summary

Commitment as a sexually violent predator (SVP) reversed where sole evidence that defendant suffered from a requisite mental disorder was an expert’s flawed testimony. Wright was committed as an SVP after his conviction for oral copulation of a child under 18. He had three prior convictions for committing lewd acts on 14 and 15 year olds. To prove that Wright had a diagnosed mental disorder that made it likely he would engage in sexually violent criminal behavior, the prosecutor admitted expert testimony that Wright probably had hebephilia, i.e., sexual arousal interest in pubescent age children. The expert conceded that children go through puberty at different ages (usually between 11 and 13) and that based solely on the age of Wright’s victims (14 to 15) he could not tell whether they were in puberty when Wright committed lewd acts on them. However, the expert testified that Wright’s hebephilia diagnosis was a “close call.” Wright appealed his commitment as an SVP, arguing that the commitment order was not supported by substantial evidence because there was a lack of information about the physical characteristics and/or sexual development of the victims. Held: Reversed. “An expert opinion has no value if its basis is unsound . . . assumptions which are not grounded in fact cannot serve as the basis for an expert’s opinion.” The expert’s opinion in this case “was not of ponderable legal significance or of solid value.” It was based on the hypothesized facts that Wright’s 14- and 15-year-old victims were still in puberty. Thus, it was based on “pure speculation.” Wright’s commitment as an SVP was reversed for lack of substantial evidence.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B269705.PDF