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Delay of SVP Trial Due Process Violation?

Case Name: Camacho v. Superior Court (2023) __ Cal.5th __
Case #: S273391/F082798
Last Updated: August 31, 2023

Does a 15-year delay in bringing a defendant to trial under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6600 et. seq) constitute a due process violation?

Persons facing commitment under the Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Act have a due process right to a timely trial, but even a 15-year delay does not necessarily violate that right where the defense is primarily responsible for the delays. In 2006, the state filed a petition to recommit Camacho as an SVP. Since then, the defense requested or agreed to continuances of the trial date, and the trial on the recommitment petition has yet to occur. In 2018, Camacho withdrew his time waiver and was appointed new counsel. In 2021, the trial court denied Camacho’s motion to dismiss the SVP recommitment petition. Camacho filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Court of Appeal, which was denied. The California Supreme Court granted review to consider the constitutional framework for evaluating the timeliness of SVP trials. Held: Affirmed. The court held that individuals facing commitment under the SVP Act have a due process right to a timely trial and that the factors laid out in Barker v. Wingo (1972) 407 U.S. 514 should be considered to determine whether this right has been violated. A court should consider the length of the pretrial delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant caused by the delay. Balancing these factors, only one factor—the length of the delay—strongly supported Camacho’s claim of a due process violation. Though the trial court and the state seemingly neglected their responsibility to bring the case to trial in a timely manner, the defense bears more responsibility for the delay in this case. In general, delays sought by the defendant’s counsel weigh against the defendant’s claim of a speedy trial violation, and the record here does not show any exceptions to this rule. Camacho did not demonstrate a desire to go to trial before 2018, nor did he suffer significant prejudice as he was receiving mental health services and did not receive a beneficial medical evaluation until 2015. Camacho therefore did not establish a violation due process. [Editor’s Notes: (1) The Supreme Court held that an additional balancing test under Mathews v. Eldridge (1976) 424 U.S. 319 is unnecessary (some Courts of Appeal had also applied this test when evaluating due process claims based on delays in holding SVP trials). (2) The court disapproved a number of Court of Appeal opinions to the extent they apply a presumption of prejudice when evaluating a claimed violation of the due process right to a timely SVP trial. (3) In view of the vital importance of ensuring adequate procedures are in place to protect the interests of the defendant, the state, and the public, the Supreme Court further called on the Judicial Council to examine the issue of the timeliness of SVP trials to consider what, if any, additional safeguards would facilitate timely adjudication of petitions for commitment under the SVP Act.]

This case was decided on 8/31/2023. Justice Kruger authored the opinion of the court, in which Chief Justice Guerrero and Justices Corrigan, Liu, Groban, Jenkins, and Evans concurred.

Review on this issue was also granted with briefing deferred in:

  • People v. Ballardo (B290567) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 6/29/2022 (S274469)
  • Johnson v. Superior Court (B319328) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 7/13/2022 (S274569)
  • People v. Sipe (A163611) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 3/15/2023 (S278255)
  • People v. Hubbs (D077636) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 4/19/2023 (S278810)
  • In re Kerins (2023) 89 Cal.App.5th 1084, review granted 6/14/2023 (S279933/A165304)
  • People v. Howard (H047743) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 8/23/2023 (S281144)

 

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