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Name: Stiavetti v. Clendenin
Case #: A157553
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 06/15/2021

Persons found incompetent to stand trial and committed to the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) or the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) have a constitutional due process right to substantive services within a reasonable fixed period of time. When a criminal defendant is found mentally incompetent to stand trial (IST), the trial court must suspend criminal proceedings and order the defendant to a DSH or a DDS facility for treatment. In this case, family members of IST defendants and two organizations filed a petition for writ of mandate and a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging statewide delays in the transfer of IST defendants from county jails to DSH and DDS. The trial court granted relief in part, finding that DSH and DDS systematically violated the due process rights of IST defendants and that due process requires DSH and DDS to commence substantive services for substantially all IST defendants within 28 days of service of the transfer of responsibility document. DSH and DDS appealed. Held: Affirmed. When a person is deprived of liberty for the sole purpose of providing substantive competency-restoration treatment, it is a violation of due process if the person is confined more than a reasonable period of time without receiving such treatment. Previously, on a case-by-case basis, courts had found that the outer limit of a “reasonable time” required IST defendants to be admitted to a state hospital from between 14 to 60 days of the commitment order. The DSH and DDS failed to meet these deadlines, with an average wait of 64 and 53 days, respectively. “Considering the evidence of longstanding and continuing delays in admission of IST defendants, the absence thus far of legislative action on this specific issue, and the necessarily piecemeal nature of the remedies imposed by the Courts of Appeal of this state,” the trial court acted within its discretion when it balanced the IST defendants’ private liberty interest, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest, and the government’s interest, in setting the 28-day outer limit.

The trial court’s denial of the petition as to certain IST defendants charged with felony sex offenses who are committed to DDS is reversed. In a cross-appeal, plaintiffs argued the trial court erred in finding that the documentation requirement for IST defendants who have been charged with felony sex offenses and are committed to DDS (Pen. Code, § 1370.1, subd. (a)(3)), absolves DDS of responsibility for their timely admission. The trial court had found that as to these defendants, the transfer of responsibility to DDS does not occur until the defendant and certain required documentation are physically delivered to a DDS facility. This portion of the trial court’s order was based on a misreading of the relevant statutory provisions regarding the documentation requirements. The Court of Appeal agreed with the plaintiffs that the trial court’s interpretation of the statute would raise due process and equal protection concerns. “For all IST defendants committed to DDS pursuant to section 1370.1, the transfer of responsibility date is the date of service of the commitment order.”