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Conservatorship–Right Not to Testify

Case Name: Conservatorship of Eric B. (2022) 12 Cal.5th 1085
Case #: S261812
Last Updated: April 28, 2022

Does equal protection require that persons subject to a conservatorship under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5350) have the same right to invoke the statutory privilege not to testify as persons subject to involuntary commitments under Penal Code section 1026.5 after a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity?

Held: “The Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act (LPS Act; Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5000 et seq.) authorizes one-year conservatorships for those gravely disabled by a mental disorder or chronic alcoholism. Conservatorship proceedings are civil in nature, so the constitutional protections afforded criminal defendants do not directly apply. However, the Legislature has extended many of the same rights by statute to the commitment of persons found not guilty of crimes by reason of insanity (NGI’s). (Pen. Code, § 1026.5, subd. (b)(7).) Among those is the right not to give compelled testimony at trial. (See Hudec v. Superior Court (2015) 60 Cal.4th 815, 826 [181 Cal. Rptr. 3d 748, 339 P.3d 998] (Hudec).) The question here is whether those facing conservatorship due to an inability to care for themselves should enjoy the same protection. We conclude that, for purposes of the right against compelled testimony, the groups are sufficiently similar that equal protection principles require the government to justify its disparate treatment of these proposed conservatees. However, because it is undisputed any error here was harmless, we need not decide what level of scrutiny is appropriate or whether the disparate treatment of conservatees can be constitutionally justified. We affirm the judgment.” (Conservatorship of Eric B. (2022) 12 Cal.5th 1085 (S261812).) This case was decided on 4/28/2022.

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