Hubbart v. Superior Court, S052136

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation19 Cal.4th 1138,81 Cal.Rptr.2d 492
Decision Date21 January 1999
Docket NumberNo. S052136,S052136
Parties, 969 P.2d 584, 99 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 563, 99 Daily Journal D.A.R. 671 Christopher Evans HUBBART, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Santa Clara County, Respondent; The People, Real Party in Interest

Page 492

81 Cal.Rptr.2d 492
19 Cal.4th 1138, 969 P.2d 584, 99 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 563,
99 Daily Journal D.A.R. 671
Christopher Evans HUBBART, Petitioner,
The SUPERIOR COURT of Santa Clara County, Respondent;
The People, Real Party in Interest.
No. S052136.
Supreme Court of California
Jan. 21, 1999.

Page 494

[969 P.2d 586] [19 Cal.4th 1142] Klein & Crain, Rowan K. Klein, Santa Monica; Donald Specter and Arnold Erickson, San Quentin, for Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General, George Williamson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Peter J. Siggins, Assistant Attorney General, Morris Lenk and Bruce M. Slavin, Deputy Attorneys General, for Real Party in Interest.

Gary G. Kreep and Kevin T. Snider, Escondido, for United States Justice Foundation as Amicus Cuirae on behalf of Real Party in Interest.


Christopher Evans Hubbart is a convicted felon with a long history of committing violent, and sometimes bizarre, sex crimes against women he does not know. Shortly before Hubbart was scheduled to be released from prison for his most recent offense, the state sought his civil commitment under a new statutory scheme, the Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA or Act). (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 6600 et seq.) 1

Hubbart demurred to the commitment petition on grounds the SVPA is unconstitutional.

Page 495

[969 P.2d 587] The trial court overruled the demurrer, and the Court of Appeal denied Hubbart's petition for a writ of prohibition. Hubbart pursues his constitutional attack on review in this court.

Despite the ominous name, the SVPA operates in a familiar manner when considered in light of other involuntary commitment procedures in this state and across the nation. For reasons we explain, the Act was crafted with [19 Cal.4th 1143] relevant constitutional concerns in mind. We find no merit in Hubbart's claim that the scheme conflicts, on its face, with due process, equal protection, and ex post facto principles. The judgment of the Court of Appeal will be affirmed.


Historically, the states have exercised a power of involuntary civil commitment involving the care and treatment of dangerous mentally disordered individuals. While some of these schemes operate in a manner largely independent of the criminal justice system, 2 others are triggered only after criminal charges have been filed. Some criminal defendants receive a mental health commitment in lieu of conviction and punishment. 3 Other mentally ill defendants are committed upon completion of their prison terms. 4

In recent years, lawmakers across the country have perceived a link between certain diagnosable mental disorders and violent sexual behavior that is criminal in nature. Through passage of the SVPA, California is one of several states to hospitalize or otherwise attempt to treat troubled sexual predators apart from any criminal sanctions they might receive, and apart from civil commitment schemes targeting other mental health problems. (Kansas v. Hendricks (1997) 521 U.S. 346, 388-389, 117 S.Ct. 2072, 138 L.Ed.2d 501 (dis. opn. of Breyer, J.) [identifying 17 states with such statutes] (Hendricks ).)

The scheme under consideration here took effect January 1, 1996. (Stats.1995, ch. 763, § 3.) In describing the underlying purpose, the Legislature [19 Cal.4th 1144] expressed concern over a select group of criminal offenders who are extremely dangerous as the result of mental impairment, and who are likely to continue committing acts of sexual violence even after they have been punished for such crimes. The Legislature indicated that to the extent such persons are currently incarcerated and readily identifiable, commitment under the SVPA is warranted immediately upon their release from prison. The Act provides treatment for mental disorders from which they currently suffer and reduces the threat of harm otherwise posed to the public. No punitive purpose was intended. (Id., § 1.) 5

Page 496

[969 P.2d 588] The requirements for classification as a "sexually violent predator" (SVP) are set forth in section 6600, subdivision (a) and related provisions. 6 First, and critical here, is that an SVP must suffer from "a diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior." (Id., subd. (a).) A "diagnosed mental disorder" is defined in its entirety as "includ[ing] a congenital or acquired condition affecting the emotional or volitional capacity that predisposes the person to the commission of criminal sexual acts in a degree constituting the person a menace to the health and safety of others." (Id., subd. (c).) The phrase, "danger to the health and safety of others," is accompanied by language making clear that proof of a "recent overt act" or crime "in custody" is not required. (Id., subds. (d) & (f).)

[19 Cal.4th 1145] Second, an SVP must have been "convicted of a sexually violent offense against two or more victims." (§ 6600, subd. (a).) 7 A " sexually violent offense" refers to certain enumerated sex crimes "committed by force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person." (§ 6600, subd. (b), citing Pen.Code, §§ 261, subd. (a)(2) [rape of nonspouse], 262, subd. (a)(1) [rape of spouse], 264.1 [rape in concert], 286 [sodomy], 288, subds. (a) & (b) [lewd acts upon children under age 14], 288a [oral copulation], 289, subd. (a) [sexual penetration by foreign object].)

No restriction is placed on the time at which a prior qualifying crime must have occurred. The definition of a "sexually violent offense" includes acts "committed on, before, or after the effective date" of the Act. (§ 6600, subd. (b).) However, prior crimes play a limited role in the SVP determination. "Conviction of one or more [sexually violent offenses] shall constitute evidence that may support a court or jury determination that a person is a sexually violent predator, but shall not be the sole basis for the determination.... Jurors shall be admonished that they may not find a person a sexually violent predator based on prior offenses absent relevant evidence of a currently diagnosed mental disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior." (Id., subd. (a).)

The process for determining whether a convicted sex offender meets the foregoing requirements takes place in several stages, both administrative and judicial. Generally, the Department of Corrections screens inmates in its custody who are "serving a determinate prison sentence or whose parole has been revoked" at least six months before their scheduled date of release from prison.

Page 497

[969 P.2d 589] (§ 6601, subd. (a).) 8 This process involves review of the inmate's background and criminal record, and employs a "structured screening instrument" developed in conjunction with the Department of Mental Health. (Id., subd. (b).) If officials find the inmate is likely to be an SVP, he is referred to the Department of Mental Health for a "full evaluation" as to whether he meets the criteria in section 6600. (§ 6601, subd. (b).)

[19 Cal.4th 1146] The evaluation performed by the Department of Mental Health must be conducted by at least two practicing psychiatrists or psychologists in accordance with a standardized assessment protocol. (§ 6601, subds. (c) & (d).) "The standardized assessment protocol shall require assessment of diagnosable mental disorders, as well as various factors known to be associated with the risk of reoffense among sex offenders. Risk factors to be considered shall include criminal and psychosexual history, type, degree, and duration of sexual deviance, and severity of mental disorder." (Id., subd. (c).)

Two evaluators must agree that the inmate is mentally disordered and dangerous within the meaning of section 6600 in order for proceedings to go forward under the Act. (§ 6601, subd. (d).) In such cases, the Department of Mental Health transmits a request for a petition for commitment to the county in which the alleged SVP was last convicted, providing copies of the psychiatric evaluations and any other supporting documentation. (Id., subds. (d), (h) & (i).) 9 "If the county's designated counsel concurs with the recommendation, a petition for commitment shall be filed in the superior court...." (Id., subd. (i).)

The filing of the petition triggers a new round of proceedings under the Act. The superior court first holds a hearing to determine whether there is "probable cause" to believe that the person named in the petition is likely to engage in sexually violent predatory criminal behavior upon release. (§ 6602, as amended by Stats.1996, ch. 4, § 4, and by Stats.1998, ch. 19, § 3.) 10 The alleged predator is entitled to the assistance of counsel at this hearing. If no probable cause is found, the petition is dismissed. However, if the court finds probable cause within the meaning of this section, the court orders a trial to determine whether the person is an SVP under section 6600. [19 Cal.4th 1147] The alleged predator must remain in a "secure facility" between the time probable cause is found and the time trial is complete. (§ 6602.) 11

At trial, the alleged predator is entitled to "the assistance of counsel, the right to retain

Page 498

[969 P.2d 590] experts or professional persons to perform an examination on his or her behalf, and have access to all relevant medical and psychological records and reports." (§ 6603, subd. (a).) Either party may demand and receive trial by jury. (Id., subds. (a) & (b); see id., subd. (c).)

The trier of fact is charged with determining whether the requirements for classification as an SVP have been established "beyond a reasonable doubt." (§ 6604.) Any jury verdict on the issue must be "unanimous." (§...

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