People v. Barrett, No. S180612.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtBAXTER
Citation2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 10345,144 Cal.Rptr.3d 661,281 P.3d 753,12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 8538,54 Cal.4th 1081
PartiesThe PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Christine BARRETT, Defendant and Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. S180612.
Decision Date30 July 2012

54 Cal.4th 1081
281 P.3d 753
144 Cal.Rptr.3d 661
12 Cal.
Daily Op. Serv. 8538
2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 10,345

The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
Christine BARRETT, Defendant and Appellant.

No. S180612.

Supreme Court of California

July 30, 2012.

[144 Cal.Rptr.3d 663]Jean Matulis, Cambria, under appointment by the Supreme Court, for Defendant and Appellant.

Deborah A. Dorfman and Sujatha Jagadeesh Branch for Disability Rights California, ARC of California, Capitol People First, Professor Robert Jacobs, Professor Michael Perlin and Olivia Raynor as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

[144 Cal.Rptr.3d 664]Edmund G. Brown, Jr., and Kamala D. Harris, Attorneys General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Assistant Attorney General, Laurence K. Sullivan, Dorian Jung, Seth K. Schalit and Lisa H. Ashley Ott, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


[54 Cal.4th 1088]

[281 P.3d 755]

Christine Barrett is an adult who has long been diagnosed with mental retardation and other mental disorders, and who has lived in the community while being supported and supervised by others. Because of her increasingly violent behavior, Barrett became the subject of this proceeding to civilly commit her as a “mentally retarded person” who is a “ danger” to herself or others. (Welf. & Inst.Code,1 § 6500 (section 6500).) 2 The

[281 P.3d 756]

People sought placement in a secure treatment facility pursuant to the statutory scheme.

Following a nonjury trial in which Barrett was represented by counsel, the trial court sustained the allegations of the petition. The court ordered her [54 Cal.4th 1089]committed for one year to the State Department of Developmental Services (Department), and otherwise approved the requested placement. The judgment was affirmed on appeal. This court granted Barrett's petition for review.

We now decide whether the Court of Appeal properly rejected Barrett's claims that she was denied due process and equal protection of the law insofar as the record does not reveal the circumstances under which she was tried by the court, rather than by a jury. The statutory scheme does not expressly provide either for a right to jury trial or for any related requirement that an alleged mentally retarded person be advised of, or allowed to personally act upon, any such right. Nevertheless, the parties do not dispute that Barrett was entitled under longstanding equal protection principles to a jury unless a jury was validly waived.

Critical here is that Barrett further insists the trial court was constitutionally compelled to (1) expressly advise her that she could request a jury, and (2) obtain her personal waiver of a jury, before holding a bench trial and deciding all commitment issues itself. Because the record does not show whether such procedures occurred here, Barrett views the commitment order as inherently unsound and reversible per [144 Cal.Rptr.3d 665]se. We disagree, and find no constitutional violation.

Barrett's due process and equal protection theories share the same flawed premise. The section 6500 procedure itself undermines Barrett's assumption that persons alleged to be mentally retarded and dangerous can necessarily decide for themselves, in a knowing and intelligent manner, whether to demand a jury at their commitment trials. As we explain, that process is initiated, and proceeds from the outset, on the basis of strong evidence that the individual facing commitment has cognitive and intellectual impairments that would prevent him or her from making a meaningful decision whether to invoke, or waive, the right to a jury trial. The person's rights and interests are nonetheless protected by the state's statutory obligation to provide counsel in section 6500 proceedings.

Accordingly, consistent with closely related decisions of this court, and given the mental competence issues addressed in section 6500 proceedings as compared to other commitment scenarios, we conclude it is counsel who must make the tactical decision whether to seek or waive a jury. To encumber the jury trial right with a collateral requirement that any waiver be personally made by the proposed committee following a formal court advisement would serve no useful purpose in this context. This approach does not undermine the fairness of the proceedings in a due process sense, or treat dangerous mentally retarded persons differently from those with whom they are aligned for equal protection purposes. We therefore will affirm the judgment.

[54 Cal.4th 1090]I. CASE HISTORY

On January 22, 2009, the district attorney, acting on the People's behalf, filed a petition in Santa Clara County Superior Court to commit Barrett under section 6500. According to the petition, Barrett lived in a private residence with staff assistance. The party responsible for her care, maintenance, and support was the San Andreas Regional Center (Center). 3 The Center's service coordinator, Betty Crane, was the person who requested that the petition be filed.

The petition further alleged that Barrett was mentally retarded and dangerous to herself and others. On this basis, the court was asked to hold an evidentiary hearing and to order Barrett committed to the Department

[281 P.3d 757]

for care, custody, and treatment for a period not exceeding one year. In providing reasons for filing the commitment petition, the district attorney relied on “the assessment, evaluations, reports and other documents” of the Center and the Department. These materials were incorporated by reference into the petition, and were filed at the same time in the form of a confidential exhibit.

On the day the petition was filed, the trial court set a hearing for March 9, 2009. Pending the hearing, the court also ordered Barrett's interim placement under the Department's care in a particular secure treatment facility.

Counsel for both parties appeared in court on March 9. Although a court reporter was also present, no reported proceedings occurred and no transcript was prepared. As noted by the Court of Appeal, the only record of the hearing is a printed minute order. It indicates, in an abbreviated[144 Cal.Rptr.3d 666]handwritten note, that the matter was continued to April 8, 2009, at 10:00 a.m., for a two-hour hearing. The March 9 minute order contains no other substantive information.

On April 8, the trial court began the proceeding at the scheduled time. Barrett and counsel for both parties were present in the courtroom. Counsel agreed that the previous two-hour estimate accurately reflected the total amount of time needed to present evidence and try the case. The People then called Dr. Robert Thomas, their first and only witness, to the stand. Nothing in the reporter's transcript indicates that any mention of trial by jury occurred.

Dr. Thomas was a psychologist at the Center who qualified as an expert witness on mental retardation, and who had examined Barrett and reviewed [54 Cal.4th 1091]her case history. He testified that Barrett, then age 27, was mentally retarded. She had an I.Q. in the “50's to 40's”—a level deemed “moderate” in the sense that it was neither mild nor severe. Dr. Thomas based this conclusion, in part, on school records and psychological reports from early in Barrett's life, before she became a client of the Center in 2001.4

Dr. Thomas further opined that because of cognitive deficits associated with her mental retardation, Barrett had serious difficulty controlling her behavior, and was a danger to herself and others. This determination rested on two main factors: (1) Barrett's incapacity “to understand the complexity of her disorder and the need for treatment,” and (2) her volatile and violent history, as set forth in “incident reports” compiled by the Center.5

Dr. Thomas explained that Barrett had lived at home with her parents until 2001. Because of physical assaults and verbal abuse against her parents, and noncompliance with her treatment plan, Barrett was placed in a residential facility, or group home. This facility, where Barrett stayed for five years, was well staffed and closely monitored. However, according to Dr. Thomas, Barrett repeatedly left the premises without proper notice and supervision, and disrupted the community by “threatening people” and acting in “inappropriate” and “self-destructive” ways. Similar problems arose inside the facility, often triggering an emergency response and psychiatric hospitalization.

Dr. Thomas testified that, beginning in 2006, Barrett was moved into a condominium that her parents owned. This arrangement was facilitated by support staff trained to help persons like Barrett live independently. According to Dr. Thomas, Barrett's outbursts

[281 P.3d 758]

continued. The Center documented 30 incidents in the 18–month period before the hearing. Typically, Barrett became agitated about personal matters, and responded by assaulting family[144 Cal.Rptr.3d 667]members or staff, damaging property, and committing certain forms of [54 Cal.4th 1092]self-abuse. Dr. Thomas noted that “furniture and pictures and all kinds of things had to be removed from her apartment just to keep her safe.” 6

In light of this evidence, Dr. Thomas recommended that Barrett be committed to a particular secure treatment facility—the same one that was serving as interim housing at the time of the hearing. He explained that it was the least restrictive placement. Barrett's history showed that she could not safely reside in either a less secure group home or an independent living situation.

Barrett testified as the only witness on her behalf. She did not like her current placement because, even though the people were nice and the food was good, she could not go on outings and preferred the group home. She liked her medication because it calmed her, but denied being mentally disordered.

Following closing argument, the trial court found that, notwithstanding any other disorders, Barrett was mentally...

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