California Supreme Court:
No Trial on Petition Has Occurred Over 16-Year Period but, Kruger Writes, Delay Is Largely Ascribable to Defense
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man who has since 2007 been in involuntary hospital confinement awaiting trial on a petition to declare him a sexually violent predator has not suffered a due process violation because the delay is mostly attributable to continuances sought or agreed to by the defense lawyers, the California Supreme Court held yesterday in a unanimous opinion.
The portioner, Ciro Camacho, was determined in 2005 to be a sexually violent predator—or “SVP.” He was ordered committed under the Sexually Violent Predator Act for a two-year period, the maximum then provided for by the act.
That act was subsequently amended, by a voter-approved proposition, to provide for an indefinite commitment and the state in late 2006 filed a petition to have Camacho declared anew to be an SVP and be subjected to an open-ended commitment. There have been, over the years, more than 200 continuances and a trial pursuant to the petition has not taken place.
At a hearing on Oct. 18, 2018, Camacho’s appointed counsel, William Davis, pointed to the Sept. 12, 2018 decision of this district’s Court of Appeal in People v. Superior Court (Vasquez). The real party in that case was George Vasquez who had been involuntary confined in hospitals for 17 years while awaiting a trial an SVP petition.
Justice Gail Ruderman Feuer wrote:
“[I]in light of the violation of Vasquez’s Fourteenth Amendment due process right to a timely trial…, the proper remedy was dismissal of the petition. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in granting the motion to dismiss.”
Davis indicated that Camacho would not further waive time.
On March 11, 2021, Camacho, through new counsel, filed a motion to dismiss the 2006 petition based on the lack of prosecution. Merced Superior Court Judge Ronald W. Hansen denied the motion, attributing the delay primarily to the defense lawyers, and the Fifth District Court of Appeal on Jan 21, 2022, denied a writ petition in an unpublished opinion.
Supreme Court’s Decision
The Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the Court of Appeal’s judgment in an opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger, who wrote:
“Although the Courts of Appeal have previously addressed similar claims, this case marks the first time this court has considered the constitutional framework for evaluating the timeliness of SVP trials. We now hold that persons facing SVP commitment have a due process right to a timely trial. But as is true in other contexts, whether pretrial delay’ violates that right depends in the first instance on the reasons for the delay.”
“Here, while the decade-plus delay in holding Camacho’s recommitment trial is extraordinarily lengthy, the available record shows that responsibility for the delay lies primarily with the defense, which either sought or agreed to the continuances that led to the delay. While many of the continuance requests were made by Camacho’s counsel when Camacho was not personally present in court, the ordinary rule is that delays sought by counsel are attributable to their clients..., and the record reveals no basis to depart from that rule in this case. Camacho therefore has not established that the pretrial delay in this case resulted in a violation of his due process rights.”
Absence From Court
Kruger found no relevance to Camacho’s contention that delay should not be attributed to him that occurred during an eight-year period when he declined to come to court for hearings. She pointed out that there was no contention by Camacho that the continuances requested by his lawyer had been contrary to his instructions or that he was forced to absent himself.
“On the available record,” Kruger said, “Camacho bears most of the responsibility for the delay he now challenges.”
Placing some of the blame on the Merced Superior Court, Kruger commented that “when a court finds probable cause to hold an alleged SVP in state custody pending trial….the trial court must take due account of the individual’s interests in prompt adjudication and take decisive steps to guard against unjustified delay.”
She went on to observe that “if the trial court made efforts to move the case along, they are not apparent.”
(Kruger noted that recent amendments to the SVP Act tighten requirements.)
The justice added that “the record also shows the People made little effort to move the case toward trial.”
The case is Camacho v. Superior Court, 2023 S.O.S. 3229.
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