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Name: Taylor v. San Diego County
Case #: 12-55030
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 09/09/2015

The indefinite term of commitment for SVPs (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6604) does not violate equal protection under clearly established federal law because SVPs are not similarly situated to other civilly committed individuals who are treated more favorably. In 2006, Taylor was recommitted to an indeterminate term as an SVP under the amended version of section 6604. He appealed on both due process and equal protection grounds. The Court of Appeal rejected both claims and the California Supreme Court denied review. He sought federal habeas relief, arguing that section 6604 violates equal protection because it treats SVP’s less favorably than those committed under the Lanterman-Petris Short (LPS) Act, even though both are similarly situated. The federal district court denied the petition and Taylor appealed. Held: Affirmed. The California Court of Appeal did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law to Taylor’s equal protection claim when it determined that SVPs are not similarly situated to other civilly committed offenders. It is true that SVP’s are treated differently than LPS Act detainees. SVP’s can be committed for an indeterminate term while those committed under the LPS Act can only be committed for renewable one-year periods. However, SVPs are not similarly situated to LPS Act detainees because LPS Act detainees are gravely disabled or impaired and do not pose the same special dangers as SVPs. (See also Hubbart v. Knapp (9th Cir. 2004) 379 F.3d 773, Litmon v. Harris (9th Cir. 2014) 768 F.3d 1237.) The court distinguished this case from the equal protection violations in Baxtrom v. Herold (1966) 383 U.S. 107, and Jackson v. Indiana (1972) 406 U.S. 715.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act’s burden shifting scheme that requires a detainee to prove that he is no longer an SVP in order to terminate his commitment does not violate due process under clearly established federal law. Taylor also argued that the Sexually Violent Predator Act violates due process by requiring a committed SVP to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he no longer meets the statutory definition of a sexual predator. The California Court of Appeal had relied on Jones v. United States (1983) 463 U.S. 354 to conclude that the United States Supreme Court implicitly approved a review procedure that was similar to the one used in Taylor’s proceedings. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the Court of Appeal reasonably relied on the Supreme Court’s rationale in Jones as clearly established federal law. “[T]he Supreme Court has not definitively addressed the constitutionality of release procedures that place the burden of proof upon the individual challenging continued commitment.” The state court decision was not unreasonable where there was no clearly established federal law. The court distinguished Addington v. Texas (1979) 441 U.S. 418 because it only addressed the state’s burden of proof for initial commitment, not recommitment.