svpa compendium


Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Years 2014-2015

Taylor v. San Diego County (12-55030, 9/9/15)
__ F.3d __ (9th Cir.)
[1.A.; 1.B.; 4.C.] 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.

Seeboth v. Allenby (12-17062, 6/18/15)
789 F.3d 1099 (9th Cir.)
[1.B.; 4.B.] It was not objectively unreasonable for California courts to hold that the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) does not violate equal protection principles with respect to the timing of recommitment trials. Seeboth, a convicted sex offender who is serving an indefinite civil commitment under the SVPA, filed a state habeas petition arguing that the SVPA is unconstitutional on its face because it does not provide a time within which to hold a trial extending the term of his commitment. He claimed the statute denied him equal protection of the laws because other civilly committed persons (MDOs and NGIs) have a statutory right to a recommitment trial within a specified period. The state superior court denied the petition on the merits. The Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court denied Seeboth's subsequent state habeas petitions without opinion. He next filed a habeas petition in the federal district court, which was denied. Seeboth appealed. Held: Affirmed. Applying the AEDPA standard of review, the Ninth Circuit concluded that it was not objectively unreasonable for the California state courts to hold that the lack of a timing provision in the SVPA does not deprive SVPs of equal protection of the laws. The state courts could reasonably have used the rational basis standard and Seeboth did not carry his burden of proving that it was objectively unreasonable for the courts to conclude that there was a rational relationship between the differential treatment and a legitimate governmental purpose. The state clearly has a compelling interest in preventing violent crime, and a state rationally may decide that sexually violent crime is qualitatively more dangerous than other kinds of violent crime.

Litmon v. Harris (12-15261, 10/14/14)
768 F.3d 1237 (9th Cir.)
[1.B.] Requiring sexually violent predators to register in person every 90 days does not violate constitutional protections. In 2008, Litmon was released from treatment after having been adjudicated a sexually violent predator (SVP). Pursuant to Penal Code section 290.012, subdivision (b), it was ordered that he report to his local police station every 90 days to register. Litmon sought injunctive relief from the registration requirement, contending that his equal protection rights were violated because mentally disordered offenders (MDOs) and mentally disordered sex offenders (MDSOs) only have to register annually. The district court dismissed the complaint. Litman appealed. Held: Affirmed. MDOs and MDSOs are not similarly situated to sexually violent predators because the requirements for each classification differ; it is not required that MDOs and MDSOs have a conviction for a sexually violent offense. SVPs have also been found likely to "engage in sexually violent criminal behavior" upon their release from prison and such a finding is not required for MDOs and MDSOs. Additionally, there is a rational basis for imposing more frequent reporting requirements on SVPs given their criminal history of sexual violence and their higher rate of recidivism. The court also rejected due process and ex post facto claims.


Year 2011

Seeboth v. Mayberg (09-15330, 10/27/11)
659 F.3d 945 (9th Cir.)
[4.B.]Appeal of habeas petition dismissed as moot where defendant does not challenge legality of SVP proceeding commenced while he was in lawful custody. Over a number of years defendant was convicted nine times for committing sexual acts with minors. In 1997 he was determined to be a sexually violent predator (SVP). He was held for consecutive two-year terms from 1997 until 2005. While defendant was still serving a term in 2005, the prosecution filed a petition to extend his commitment. A series of appeals and post-conviction proceedings followed, resulting in the instant petition. While these proceedings were pending, Proposition 83 was adopted in California, changing the renewable two year SVP commitments to indeterminate terms. In Bourquez v. Superior Court (2007) 156 Cal.App.4th 1275, the court held that pending petitions for two-year extensions could be considered petitions for indefinite commitments. Defendant's 2005 petition went to trial in 2010 and, once the jury found him a SVP, he was committed for an indefinite term. Defendant's petition contended he was denied due process because he was held under the SVP act from 2005 until 2010 without trial. However, the 2005 petition was filed when defendant was in lawful custody, which he did not challenge in the present appeal. Because defendant is in custody for an indefinite term which was lawfully commenced and the results of that trial are not challenged on appeal, the case is denied as moot.


Year 2008

Carver v. Lehman (06-35176, 4/28/08)
550 F.3d 883 (9th Cir.)
[1.A.] The Washington state law providing for convicted sex offenders' early release into community custody does not creates a liberty interest that is protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Year 2006

Rose v. Mayberg (05-16881, 7/18/06)
454 F.3d 958 (9th Cir.)
[6.] In sexually violent predator involuntarily commitment proceedings, the trial court is not required to instruct the jury that defendant could be committed only if he was completely unable to control his behavior. After a trial on an SVPA petition, Rose appealed alleging the court erred when it refused to instruct the jury that it must find him "dangerous beyond his control." The Ninth Circuit rejected Rose's claim that Kansas v. Hendricks (1997) 521 U.S. 346, and Kansas v. Crane (2002) 534 U.S. 407, require a finding of the complete inability to control conduct. Rather, the court held Crane and Hendricks require only a finding of some degree of loss of control.


Year 2005

Jackson v. Cal. Dept. of Mental Health (6/8/05 amended)
399 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir.)
[4.]The inmate unsuccessfully sought state habeas relief after he was committed to a state hospital for two years pursuant to the SVPA. When his term of involuntary commitment expired, the inmate voluntarily recommitted himself for additional treatment. He then filed the federal habeas petition, challenging the state court's authority to issue the original involuntary commitment order. The district court denied the inmate's petition, finding that it could not grant relief because the inmate had raised only state law claims. The court held that the district court should have dismissed the petition outright because no U.S. Const. art. III case or controversy existed. The inmate lacked standing to seek federal habeas relief because, at the time he filed his federal habeas petition, he was no longer confined pursuant to the challenged state court order; his voluntary commitment ended the connection between his confinement and the order. The court would not presume collateral injuries arising out of the inmate's SVPA commitment. By itself, the potential harm to the inmate's reputation, arising out of his sexual predator designation, was not sufficient to confer standing in the case.


Year 2004

Brock v. Seling (11/22/04)
390 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir.)
[6.] In this habeas appeal, Brock challenged the jury instructions regarding the mental condition required to support civil commitment under the Sexually Violent Predator's Act (SVPA), arguing that they did not satisfy the due process requirements detailed in Kansas v. Crane (2002) 534 U.S. 407. The instructions did not specify that Brock's mental condition must be rooted in a mental abnormality apart from a personality disorder. The appellate court here denied the habeas petition. Crane does not require specific findings on the nature of the condition responsible for an SVP's lack of control. The jury undoubtedly found that Brock's condition evinced "serious difficulty" in controlling his behavior, and this was sufficient. Crane declined to require that the condition posing the serious difficulty be volitional.

Hubbart v. Knapp (8/13/04)
379 F.3d 773 (9th Cir.)
[1.A.] [1.B.] Hubbart was the first person confined as a sexually violent predator (SVP) under Welfare and Institutions Code section 6600 et seq. His challenges to the law were rejected in the state courts. In this appeal from the denial of his federal habeas petition, he claimed that the SVP Act violates due process and equal protection protections. The government argued that the claims were moot because they arose from Hubbart's original commitment, and he has been recommitted. The court here held that the petition was not moot because the claims are capable of repetition yet evading review. It also rejected Hubbart's due process claims because there is no Supreme Court authority which is contrary to the state court's holding that the SVP Act satisfies due process requirements. Further, the court rejected equal protection claims predicated on the differences between the SVP Act and the MDO law. Not every disparity between commitment procedures amounts to a denial of equal protection.


Year 2003

Brodit v. Cambra (11/26/03)
350 F.3d 985 (9th Cir.)
[1.A.] The Court of Appeals rejected petitioner's contention that he was deprived of notice and a fair opportunity to respond to the state's charges, because Penal Code section 288.5 allowed the state to charge him with three or more acts of sexual abuse occurring on unspecified dates between June 12, 1992, and December 31, 1994. See U.S. Const. amend. VI ("the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation"). The California Court of Appeal had rejected those claims on the basis of the California Supreme Court's decision in People v. Jones (1990) 51 Cal.3d 294. Finding no clearly established United States Supreme Court precedent that the California Court of Appeal contradicted or unreasonably applied in this portion of the analysis, the Court rejects the due process contention.

Hatton v. Bonner (10/8/03)
346 F.3d 938 (9th Cir.)
[1.] Under AEDPA, the state Supreme Court decision upholding California's sex-offender registration statute (Pen. Code, sec. 290) did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, nor was it based on an unreasonable determination of the facts, and thus habeas was not warranted.

Young v. Weston (9/18/03)
344 F.3d 973 (9th Cir.)
[1.D.] On remand, based on new United States Supreme Court precedent (Seling v. Young (2001) 531 U.S. 250), the district court held that the Washington State Community Protection Act of 1990 (WSCPA) was constitutional. Young here appeals again. Without further briefing or oral argument, the district court properly denied the inmate relief. The instant court previously affirmed the decision rejecting the inmate's substantive due process claims. Both the Washington Supreme Court and the federal district court previously rejected the inmate's ex post facto and double jeopardy claims. The state court's decision had not been overturned, and the inmate did not seek certiorari review of the decision affirming the district court's ruling. Thus, the inmate was barred from reasserting those claims.


Year 2000

Page v. Torrey (1/13/00)
201 F.3d 1136 (9th Cir.)
[7.] A person who is civilly committed under the Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA) is not a "prisoner" within the meaning of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). As a result, Page was not required under the PLRA to provide copies of his prisoner trust fund account statements in order to proceed in forma pauperis and he was also not subject to the requirement that he exhaust available administrative remedies. Page's detention was a civil commitment for non-punitive purposes, and he ceased being a "prisoner" when he was released from the custody of the Department of Corrections.


Year 1999

Young v. Weston (98-35377, 9/16/99)
192 F.3d 870 (9th Cir.)
[Certiorari was granted and an opinion was filed on January 17, 2001, by the U.S. Supreme Court as Seling v. Young (2001) 531 U.S. 250. See U.S. Supreme Court Cases decided, page 3 .]

[1.A.] [1.B.] Substantive due process and equal protection violations were not shown in this habeas writ petition filed by an inmate being held pursuant to Washington State's Sexually Violent Predator law. Facts were alleged, however, that if proved, would establish the punitive nature of petitioner's confinement. These facts entitle petitioner to an evidentiary hearing on his ex post facto and double jeopardy claims. The Court of Appeals here explicitly held that if the statute is punitive as applied, it violates both the ex post facto and double jeopardy clauses of the United States Constitution.

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