Conservatorship of Susan T.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation884 P.2d 988,8 Cal.4th 1005,36 Cal.Rptr.2d 40
Decision Date08 December 1994
Docket NumberNo. S035032,S035032
Parties, 884 P.2d 988, 63 USLW 2392 CONSERVATORSHIP OF the Person and Estate of SUSAN T. LAKE COUNTY MENTAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT, Petitioner and Respondent, v. SUSAN T., Objector and Appellant.

David B. Harrison, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Mat Zwerling, San Francisco, for objector and appellant.

Carmela F. Simoncini, San Diego, and Joe Simanek, Glendale, as amici curiae on behalf of objector and appellant.

Cameron L. Reeves, County Counsel, Richard H. Magnuson and J. Ross Walker, Deputy County Counsel, for petitioner and respondent.

Daniel E. Lungren, Atty. Gen., George Williamson, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Ronald A. Bass, Asst. Atty. Gen., Ronald E. Niver and Clifford K. Thompson, Deputy Attys. Gen., John J. Meehan, Dist. Atty. (Alameda), William M. Baldwin, Asst. Dist. Atty., and Anthony Douglas, Deputy Dist. Atty., as amici curiae on behalf of petitioner and respondent.

WERDEGAR, Justice.

After investigating a treating physician's report that Susan T. 1 was a schizophrenic and a danger to herself and to others, the Lake County Mental Health Department (department) dispatched a crisis services worker to Susan T.'s home. She was living amidst bagged human and animal waste, without water, heat or electricity. She was taken to a psychiatric hospital. Several hours later, another mental health worker from the department took photographs of the interior of Susan T.'s apartment. These photographs recorded the conditions under which Susan T. had been living. The photographs were admitted into evidence over Susan T.'s objection at a later conservatorship proceeding brought against her by the public guardian. We granted review to determine whether the exclusionary rule applies to the trial of a proposed conservatee's grave disability in a conservatorship proceeding under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, Welfare and Institutions Code section 5000 et seq. 2 Guided by the analyses of both our earlier decisions and those of the United States Supreme Court, we decline to extend the rule to these types of proceedings.


The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (the act) governs the involuntary treatment of the mentally ill in California. Enacted by the Legislature in 1967, the act includes among its goals ending the inappropriate and indefinite commitment of the mentally ill, providing prompt evaluation and treatment of persons with serious mental disorders, guaranteeing and protecting public safety, safeguarding the rights of the involuntarily committed through judicial review, and providing individualized treatment, supervision and placement services for the gravely disabled by means of a conservatorship program. (§ 5001.) The act limits involuntary commitment to successive periods of increasingly longer duration, beginning with a 72-hour detention for evaluation and treatment (§ 5150), which may be extended by certification for 14 days of intensive treatment (§ 5250); that initial period may be extended for an additional 14 days if the person detained is suicidal. (§ 5260.) In those counties that have elected to do so, the 14-day certification may be extended for an additional 30-day period for further intensive treatment. (§ 5270.15.) Persons found to be imminently dangerous may be involuntarily committed for up to 180 days beyond the 14-day period. (§ 5300.) After the initial 72-hour detention, the 14-day and 30-day commitments each require a certification hearing before an appointed hearing officer to determine probable cause for confinement unless the detainee has filed a petition for the writ of habeas corpus. (§§ 5256, 5256.1, 5262, 5270.15, 5275, 5276.) A 180-day commitment requires a superior court order. (§ 5301.)

The act authorizes the appointment of a conservator for up to one year for a person determined to be gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder and unable or unwilling to accept voluntary treatment. 3 (§ 5350.) The proposed conservatee is entitled to demand a jury trial on the issue of his or her grave disability, and has a right to counsel at trial, appointed if necessary. (§§ 5350, 5365.) The party seeking imposition of the conservatorship must prove the proposed conservatee's grave disability beyond a reasonable doubt and the verdict must be issued by a unanimous jury. (Conservatorship of Roulet (1979) 23 Cal.3d 219, 152 Cal.Rptr. 425, 590 P.2d 1.)


At the time these proceedings were instituted against her, Susan T. was 48 years old and living alone in a detached studio apartment in Nice, California. She had a history of hospitalization for schizophrenia. In October of 1991 her general physician, Dr. Bradley, wrote to the department expressing grave concern about Susan T.'s physical and mental health. He stated that Susan T. was a schizophrenic and a danger to herself and to anyone around her and that she needed to be hospitalized. In response to Dr. Bradley's letter, the department instituted an investigation into Susan T.'s situation. After speaking with family members who expressed concern over Susan T.'s ability to care for herself, the department sent a crisis worker to interview Susan T. at her home. The interview was terminated when Susan T. became combative, loud and agitated. She was taken to a psychiatric facility by the Lake County Sheriff under section 5150. Both the case worker and the sheriff's deputy described the apartment as filthy, with trash and human and animal waste stored in plastic bags around the house.

Several hours after Susan T. was taken into custody, a department employee was instructed to go to Susan T.'s apartment and "take some pictures as evidence." The employee, Bonnie Taylor, explained to the property manager that Susan T. had been taken to the hospital, and she needed to know if Susan T. "had anything important in there" because "if any of her belongings are there[,] then we are responsible for those being taken care of while she was hospitalized." Bonnie Taylor was let into Susan T.'s apartment by the manager and then took nine Polaroid photographs of its interior.

On November 11, 1991, the Public Guardian for Lake County filed a Petition for Appointment of Conservator of the Person and Estate of Susan T. under section 5352 of the act. A temporary conservator was appointed on November 14, and the issue of Susan T.'s grave disability was tried to a jury on December 23 and 24.

After presenting testimony from a psychiatrist who had evaluated Susan T. and interviewed the psychiatric staff who had been treating her, counsel for the public guardian called Bonnie Taylor, the employee who had taken the photographs of Susan T.'s residence. She stated she was a "licensed psych tech" and the continuing care supervisor for Lake County, providing placement and medication services for hospitalized clients. She testified she was informed Susan T. had been taken into custody from her home and hospitalized on a 72-hour hold and that she "was to go out and take some pictures." She further testified she explained to the property manager who she was and that she needed to know if there "was anything important" in Susan T.'s residence, as the department was responsible for her belongings while she was hospitalized. The manager admitted her to Susan T.'s apartment and she took nine photographs of the interior. Those photographs were admitted into evidence over the objection of Susan T.'s counsel. Ms. Taylor briefly summarized the subject of each photograph, which depicted (1) a corner of the kitchen area, with a pile of large green trash bags in the corner; (2) a sleeping area, with an accumulation of small toys and boxes in the corner; (3) a corner of the kitchen, showing the stove and counter; (4) the bathroom, showing rocks in the sink; (5) newspapers with dog excrement on them, a pile of large green trash bags, and old cereal bowls with dried cereal in them; (6) the shower, with rocks over the drain; (7) another view of the sleeping area, showing dog excrement and bowls of cereal adjacent to the rumpled blankets; (8) a corner of the apartment, showing 10-12 large green trash bags and dog excrement on newspapers, and (9) another view of the sleeping area.

After hearing additional testimony from the property manager and from Susan T. herself, the jury found Susan T. gravely disabled within the definition of the act, and the court appointed the county's public guardian as her conservator. Susan T. appealed, contending the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress the testimony of Bonnie Taylor, as well as the photographs she had taken. 4 A majority of the Court of Appeal concluded: Bonnie Taylor's entry into Susan T.'s home violated the Fourth Amendment; the exclusionary rule should apply to a conservatorship proceeding under the act; and the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress. The court, however, affirmed the judgment, concluding the jury "could and doubtless would" have found Susan T. gravely disabled on the basis of other, properly obtained evidence, including the testimony of Susan T. herself. The dissenting justice concurred in the result, but did not agree with the majority's conclusion the exclusionary rule should be applied in proceedings under the act. The department petitioned for review, contending Bonnie Taylor's entry into Susan T.'s home did not violate the Fourth Amendment and, even if it did, we should not apply the exclusionary rule to proceedings under the act. We granted review. 5


The federal exclusionary rule, when it applies, requires the suppression of evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. (Mapp v. Ohio (1961) 367 U.S. 643, 648, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 1687, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081; Weeks v. United States (1914) 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652, overruled on other grounds in Elkins v. United...

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