People v. Feagley

Citation121 Cal.Rptr. 509,14 Cal.3d 338
Decision Date15 May 1975
Docket NumberNo. C,C
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 535 P.2d 373 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Chester C. FEAGLEY, Defendant and Appellant. r. 16818.

Stephen L. Katz, San Francisco, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Alfonso J. Moresi, San Francisco, for defendant and appellant.

Jerome B. Falk, Jr., Charles C. Marson, San Francisco, William Higham and Rose Elizabeth Bird, Palo Also, as amici curiae on behalf of defendant and appellant.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., Edward A. Hinz, Jr., and Herbert L. Ashby, Chief Asst. Attys. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward P. O'Brien, W. Eric Collins and Joyce F. Nedde, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

In Re Lynch (1972) 8 Cal.3d 410, 105 Cal.Rptr. 217, 503 P.2d 921, we held that the cruel or unusual punishment clause of the California Constitution prohibits the state from confining a nonviolent sexual offender in prison for a wholly indeterminate period which may extend to the end of his life. In the case at bar we are called upon to decide whether the state may achieve essentially the same result by the device of declaring the person to be a 'mentally disordered sex offender' and 'civilly' committing him for an indefinite period to an 'institutional unit' on the grounds of a prison. We conclude that such confinement is likewise unconstitutional, both because of its undeniable prison setting and because of the admitted lack of treatment provided to those so detained.

Preliminarily we hold that as in People v. Burnick, Cal., 121 Cal.Rptr. 488, 535 P.2d 352, an alleged mentally disordered sex offender is entitled to the safeguard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the statutory denial of a unanimous verdict on the question whether he is such an offender violates the due process and jury trial provisions of the California Constitution and the equal protection clauses of both the state and federal Constitutions.

On the afternoon of October 25, 1969, Julie and Dena, two eight-year-old girls, were riding their bicycles in front of Julie's house in Menlo Park. Defendant Feagley, who worked as a maintenance man in the area, stopped to talk with them. He asked Julie if she was going to let her hair grow long, and she replied that she was. He then briefly stroked both girls' hair and the back of their necks. After watching Dena show him how fast she could ride her bicycle, he left. That is all that happened.

Nevertheless, when the girls told their parents of the incident the latter called the police, and Feagley was arrested and charged with 'molesting' each girl in violation of Penal Code section 647a. These charges were dismissed, however, when he entered a plea of guilty to one count of simple battery (Pen.Code, § 242), a misdemeanor stipulated to be a lesser included offense. The punishment prescribed for that offense is a fine not exceeding $1,000 and/or a term of six months' imprisonment in county jail. (Pen.Code, § 243.)

But a far worse fate awaited Feagley. Investigation disclosed--as he freely admitted, moreover--that the incident was not the first of its kind. Throughout his life Feagley has periodically experienced a compulsive need to stroke a woman's hair. On such occasions he has satisfied that need by discreetly approaching girls or young women in public places and caressing or combing their hair, sometimes snipping off a lock with a pair of scissors. Although he has acted without permission, at no time has he used force or threat of force to accomplish his purpose. Yet because of that state of mind and his nonviolent conduct associated with it, Feagley has been confined in California mental hospitals and state prisons for approximately 19 out of the last 33 years of his life.

Only the most recent of these commitments, of course, is before us now. On the basis of the foregoing investigation the court adjourned the criminal proceedings prior to sentencing and instituted the statutory procedure for determining if Feagley was a 'mentally disordered sex offender,' and if so, what should be done with him. (Welf. & Inst.Code, § 6300 et seq.) 1 For present purposes it is not necessary to review the many steps in that procedure. 2 Nor need we review the evidence in detail. It is enough to observe that at the several court hearings and the jury trial on this issue the expert testimony was closely balanced and in sharp conflict: in each instance one or more reputable medical witnesses testified that Feagley was a mentally disordered sex offender and posed potential dangers to the public in the form of either psychological trauma or impulsive physical injury, while an equal number of no less reputable medical witnesses testified that although Feagley had a personality defect he was not a mentally disordered sex offender within the meaning of the statute and did not present any significant risk of harm to society. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the jury was likewise deeply divided: applying the 'civil' standard of proof by a preponderance of the evidence, the jurors found that Feagley was a mentally disordered sex offender by a vote of only nine to three.

On one important issue, however, the experts were in full agreement--that in the present state of medical knowledge there is no treatment that will cure or even ameliorate Feagley's condition. Thus one of the two physicians who examined Feagley at the outset of the proceedings reported to the court, 'This man has spent many years in institutions for similar offenses and I doubt very much whether he is amenable to psychiatric treatment.' The other examining physician concurred, stating that 'I further doubt the possibility of permanent change at this point in Mr. Feagley's life.' At the first court hearing on the question both doctors testified unequivocally that Feagley was not amenable to treatment. This prognostication was confirmed by the medical director of Atascadero State Hospital, to whose institution Feagley was thereafter temporarily committed for observation and diagnosis (former § 6316): the Atascadero report advised the court, inter alia, that Feagley 'will not benefit by care or treatment in a state hospital' and 'This man cannot utilize treatment. . . .'

On the basis of the foregoing testimony and reports the court found 'that the defendant is a mentally disordered sex offender who will not benefit by care or treatment in a state hospital and that the defendant is a danger to the health and safety of others. . . .' The court thereupon ordered that Feagley be committed for an indefinite period to the Department of Mental Hygiene 3 'pursuant to Sections 6316 and 6326, Welfare & Institutions Code,' and specifically directed that he be delivered into the custody of the superintendent of the California Medical Facility at Vacaville. It is from this order that Feagley prosecutes the present appeal. (Pen.Code, § 1237, subd. 1.)

At the outset we pause to note that the case is not moot. After we granted a hearing in this case Feagley was declared to be no longer a danger to the health and safety of others and was returned to the trial court, which placed him on probation on the criminal charge and ordered his release. In People v. Succop (1967) 67 Cal.2d 785, 790, 63 Cal.Rptr. 569, 572, 433 P.2d 473, 476, we held that even a temporary commitment as an apparent mentally disordered sex offender may be challenged after discharge, reasoning in part that 'defendant is entitled to the opportunity to clear his name of the adjudication that he is a probable mentally disordered sex offender.' (Accord, People v. Harvath (1969) 1 Cal.App.3d 521, 526, 82 Cal.Rptr. 48; People v. Slutts (1968) 259 Cal.App.2d 886, 895, 66 Cal.Rptr. 862.) A fortiori is this true of an indefinite commitment finding the defendant to be an actual mentally disordered sex offender. In addition, the 'substantial legal disabilities' (In re Bevill (1968) 68 Cal.2d 854, 860, 69 Cal.Rptr. 599, 442 P.2d 679) flowing from that finding are not all lifted by discharge from the commitment: for example, such a person continues to be subject to the burden of registering as a 'sex offender' each time he moves from one city or county to another. (Pen.Code, § 290.) 4 Finally, the finding and order of commitment in Feagley's case are far from unique, and 'we cannot be oblivious to the importance of the constitutional issue posed nor the number of persons who are affected.' (In re Ballay (1973) 157 U.S.App.D.C. 59, 482 F.2d 648, 651.)

We therefore address the merits of the appeal.


We first reaffirm our holding in People v. Burnick, Cal., 121 Cal.Rptr. 488, 535 P.2d 352, that the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required in mentally disordered sex offender proceedings by the California and federal due process clauses. (Cal.Const., art. I, § 7, subd. (a); U.S.Const., 14th Amend.) We shall not repeat that analysis here, but shall show that it applies even more compellingly to a person in Feagley's class.

The California statutory scheme divides mentally disordered sex offenders into two sharply differentiated categories--those who can and those who cannot 'benefit by treatment in a state hospital.' (§ 6316.) The latter are not confined in a hospital but in a 'state institution or institutional unit' provided pursuant to section 6326. It is essential to understand the significance of that phrase. The distinction between 'state hospital' and 'state institution or institutional unit' runs throughout the provisions of the statutes dealing with the commitment of mentally disordered sex offenders, the review of their condition, and their discharge from the program. (§§ 6316--6330.) It must, accordingly, be viewed as deliberate.

A 'state hospital' is not further defined in the mentally disordered sex offender law, but elsewhere in the code a number of such...

To continue reading

Request your trial
162 cases
  • People v. Gainer
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 31, 1977
    ...... (Cal.Const., art. I, § 16; People v. Collins (1976) 17 Cal.3d 687, 692, 131 Cal.Rptr. 782, 552 P.2d 742; People v. Feagley (1975) 14 Cal.3d 338, 350, 121 Cal.Rptr. 509, 535 P.2d 373.) 'Unanimity obviously requires that each juror must vote for and acquiesce in the verdict. Acquiescence simply because the verdict has been reached by the majority is not an independent judgment, and if permitted, would undermine the ......
  • County of Sutter v. Davis
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 23, 1991
    ...... and what that right is, is a purely historical question, a fact which is to be ascertained like any other social, political or legal fact." (People v. One 1941 Chevrolet Coupe (1951) 37 Cal.2d 283, 286-287, 231 P.2d 832.) "The common law at the time the Constitution was adopted includes not only ...1, 486 P.2d 1201; see also People v. Thomas (1977) 19 Cal.3d 630, 632-633, 139 Cal.Rptr. 594, 566 P.2d 228; People v. Feagley" (1975) 14 Cal.3d 338, 349-358, 121 Cal.Rptr. 509, 535 P.2d 373; People v. Burnick (1975) 14 Cal.3d 306, 310, 121 Cal.Rptr. 488, 535 P.2d 352.) .  \xC2"......
  • Conservatorship of Roulet
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • February 6, 1979
    ...... This procedural constraint is eloquent testimony to the high stakes involved a defendant's freedom and reputation hinge on the verdict. In People v. Burnick (1975) 14 Cal.3d 306, 319-322, 121 Cal.Rptr. 488, 535 P.2d 352, this court explicitly recognized that civil commitment to a mental ....         [590 P.2d 8] In People v. Feagley (1975) 14 Cal.3d 338, 351, 121 Cal.Rptr. 509, 535 P.2d 373, this court noted that a defendant in a mentally disordered sex offender proceeding was ......
  • Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 1, 1976
    ...the majority's decision also threatens the constitutionally recognized right to receive treatment. (People v. Feagley (1975) 14 Cal.3d 338, 359, 121 Cal.Rptr. 509, 535 P.2d 373; Wyatt v. Stickney (M.D.Ala.1971) 325 F.Supp. 781, 784, affd. sub nom. Wyatt v. Aderholt (5th Cir. 1974) 503 F.2d ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT