svpa compendium


Year 2006
California Court of Appeal

People v. Rasmuson (B183616 / 12/21/06)
145 Cal.App.4th 1487
[4.C.] In a proceeding for conditional release under the Sexually Violent Predator ACT (Welf. & Inst. Code, sec. 6608), the trial court, in determining if it is likely that the person will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior due to his or her diagnosed mental disorder if under supervision and treatment in the community, is to use the same definition of "likely" as that developed in People v. Ghilotti (2002) 27 Cal.4th 888 -- namely, will the person present a substantial danger, i.e., a serious and well-founded risk, that he or she will commit such crimes if free in the community. At his hearing, appellant submitted testimony of eight mental health professionals who all agreed that appellant was suitable for release. The People provided no "scintilla" of evidence that appellant would reoffend. The appellate court concluded that the trial court’s finding that appellant failed to meet his burden that he would not reoffend was not supported by the evidence and ordered appellant’s petition for release granted. It declined to decide the constitutionality of imposing the burden on appellant to establish entitlement to conditional release.


People v. Allen (E039518 / 11/16/06)
144 Cal.App.4th 1132
Subsequent history: Not citable; rev. gr. 2/28/07 (S148949)
[4.C.; 5.] At his SVP recommitment trial, appellant advised the court that he wished to testify over his attorney's objection. The attorney stated that appellant intended to testify that his victims consented to the offenses, that he refused to take medication to treat his disorder, and that the staff at Atascadero was flirting with him and making advances towards him. The trial court stated that it would exclude any testimony about consent as it was irrelevant, and that the rest of the testimony would be counterproductive. The court excluded appellant's testimony because it believed it would not be in appellant's best interest. Following his conviction, appellant contended on appeal that he was denied his constitutional right to testify. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed. Appellant did not have a constitutional right to testify over his attorney's objection because SVP proceedings are of a civil nature and appellant's attorney could waive his right to testify on the ground that doing so would be harmful to the defense. Further, any error would have been harmless under any standard because of the overwhelming evidence against appellant.


People v. Flores (F047476 / 11/1/06)
144 Cal.App.4th 625
[4.C.] Appellant was recommitted to Atascadero State Hospital when a jury found that he continued to be a sexually violent predator (SVP). On appeal, appellant contended that in light of the fact that he underwent chemical and surgical castration while confined, the jury's future dangerousness finding was not supported by substantial evidence. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed. Appellant conceded he had a mental disorder, but claimed that the castration would keep him from reoffending. The prosecution experts, however, opined that castration left intact much of appellant's motivation and ability to commit sex offenses. The jury also considered appellant's lengthy offense history and several other factors. Therefore, the evidence supported the conviction.


Murillo v. Superior Court (G035816 / 9/26/06)
143 Cal.App.4th 730
[5.] Civil discrovery procedures may not relieve the State of its burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, the appellate court held that requests for admissions may not be propounded in proceedings under the SVPA because their use would eviscerate the SVPA's requirement that the state prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and where there is a jury trial and, a unanimous jury verdict. To relieve the State of this burden would deprive a person of liberty interests in violation of their due process rights.


In re Smith (B184548 / 7/10/06)
141 Cal.App.4th 217
Subsequent history: Not citable; rev. granted 10/25/06 & reversed at: 42 Cal.4th 1251
[3.A.] Appellant challenged his confinement as a sexually violent predator (SVP) by way of writ of habeas corpus on the ground that the conviction (for failing to register) which brought him into the SVP proceedings was reversed after the SVP commitment petition was filed. The appellate court denied appellant's writ. Nothing in the relevant statutory provisions require SVP proceedings to stop when a conviction is reversed as long as the petition was originally filed lawfully. Here, the conviction for failing to register was reversed because of an error in jury instructions, and there was no suggestion that the error was made in bad faith.


People v. Shazier (H028674 / 5/8/06)
139 Cal.App.4th 294
Subsequent history: Not citable; review gr. 8/30/06 & review dismissed 5/14/08
[3.] A prosecutor committed misconduct by informing the jury of the consequences of a true finding in an SVPA case. At the defendant’s first trial that ended with a hung jury, the court granted a defense request that witnesses be prohibited from telling the jury what would happen if the petition were found to be true. The prosecution did not object to the request. In the second trial, defendant again requested that witnesses “be prohibited from telling the jurors that [defendant] would not go to prison, but would go to a hospital and receive treatment and no mention should be made of the right to have a trial after two years.” The trial court again granted the motion. During his rebuttal argument, the prosecutor told the jury that it should not speculate about what the defendant’s life would be like at Atascadero State Hospital if the jury were to find the allegations in the petition to be true. The appellate court found that the prosecutor had committed misconduct. Given the two in limine orders, and the fact that the court sustained defense objections to prosecution questions related to consequences, the court found that the prosecutor knew exactly what he was saying in his rebuttal, and that he had a definite purpose in his references to defendant staying at Atascadero State Hospital. The issue was not waived by defense counsel’s failure to seek a curative instruction, because such an instruction would have been futile. Because the case was a close one, and because the misconduct came at a critical point in the proceedings, the error was prejudicial and reversal was required.


People v. Reynolds (E036242 / 5/5/06)
139 Cal.App.4th 111
Subsequent history: Not citable; review denied & order unpublished 8/23/06
[1.A.; 3.C.3.] Pre-1983 no contest pleas and corresponding convictions may be used in proceedings under the Sexually Violent Predators Act. The SVPA proceedings at issue were based on qualifying prior convictions from 1980 and 1993. The defendant unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the People’s original commitment petition, contending that he had only one, not two, prior qualifying convictions for purposes of the SVPA. The appellate court affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss, noting that the California Supreme Court had rejected the same argument in People v. Yartz (2005) 37 Cal.4th 529, and that the trial court was not required to follow the appellate court decision in Yartz even though it had become final by the time of the SVPA proceeding in this case. The defendant further argued that he was prejudiced and denied his rights to due process and to confront witnesses by the erroneous admission of testimonial hearsay statements in police and probation reports, through the testimony of the People’s expert psychologists and other witnesses. The appellate court rejected the argument, holding that People v. Otto (2001) 26 Cal.4th 200 is still good law in spite of Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36, and that under Otto, defendants in SVPA cases have only a due process right to cross-examine witnesses, not a Sixth Amendment right. The court did find that some of the testimony should have been excluded, but found the error harmless. Finally, the defendant argued that the trial court prejudicially erred in allowing one of the prosecution’s expert witnesses to express opinions on “legal issues,” including whether defendant had committed sexually violent predatory acts on two or more victims and was likely to reoffend. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court had abused its discretion in admitting the evidence, but found this error harmless as well..


People v. Fraser (H028312 / 4/28/06)
138 Cal.App.4th 1430
[1.; 6.] Because a civil commitment proceeding under the SVPA has a nonpunitive purpose and is not equivalent to a criminal prosecution, appellant had no Sixth Amendment right to self-representation. The trial court did not err when it denied his Faretta motion prior to his recommitment proceedings. Further, even assuming there is a common law right to represent oneself in civil proceedings, or a statutory right to self-representation, any error would have been harmless here. The record shows that appellant would not have reached a more favorable result had he represented himself given the overwhelming amount of evidence against him. Further, there was no error because the trial court failed to sua sponte modify CALJIC No. 2.20 to instruct the jury that it was required to assess the credibility of the victim hearsay statements contained in the police reports. A specific instruction was not necessary to the jury's understanding of the case. The trial court's duty was fulfilled when it gave CALJIC 2.80 which properly informed the jury to determine whether the facts on which the expert witnesses had relied had been proven or disproven, and to value the opinions accordingly. Even if the court did err, the error was harmless in light of the ample evidence demonstrating the reliability of the hearsay, and the fact that appellant admitted some of the misconduct.


People v. Hayes (A109299 / 2/28/06)
137 Cal.App.4th 34
[2.B.; 3.B.] The court erred in holding a probable cause hearing at the conclusion of an SVP recommitment trial, but the error was harmless. The defendant was committed to a treatment facility as a sexually violent predator for two years. As that commitment was about to expire, a new petition was filed seeking recommitment, but that petition did not reach trial until the second two-year period was about to expire. The prosecution filed a second recommitment hearing, and the two petitions were consolidated for trial. The trial court conducted the probable cause hearing on the second petition at the conclusion of the consolidated trial. While noting that the probable cause hearing was a mandatory prerequisite to a trial on an SVP petition, the appellate court found that defendant could not show that he had been deprived of a fair trial or had otherwise suffered prejudice. Thus the error was harmless under People v. Pompa-Ortiz (1980) 27 Cal.3d 519.


People v. Fulcher (E036773 / 1/11/06)
136 Cal.App.4th 41
[3.C.; 5.] The present testimony of the victim that included additional details of the sexual act giving rise to a prior conviction was admissible at defendant's SVP commitment hearing. Welfare and Institutions Code section 6600 expressly authorizes a court to admit documentary evidence establishing the details of a prior conviction, and the laws limiting the evidence that may be used to prove a prior conviction in a criminal proceeding do not apply to SVP proceedings. Where the prior convictions were resolved by a plea agreement, it is proper to permit additional testimony to establish the conduct underlying the convictions.

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