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The People v. John Thomas Christiana

December 10, 2010

THE PEOPLE, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN THOMAS CHRISTIANA, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Superior Court of Inyo County. Brian J. Lamb, Judge. Affirmed in part; reversed in part. Super.Ct.Nos. MICRF084689102 & MBCRF094818802

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hollenhorst Acting P. J.

CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant John Thomas Christiana appeals from orders following special proceedings to determine competency (Pen. Code,*fn2 § 1368) and to authorize involuntary administration of psychotropic medication (§ 1370). He argues that (1) he had a constitutional right to testify at his competency hearing, and the denial of that right was reversible error; and (2) the trial court's authorization to involuntarily administer antipsychotic medication to him was not supported by substantial evidence. We reject the first contention but find merit to the second, and we reverse the order authorizing involuntary administration of antipsychotic medication.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 30, 2008, defendant was charged in an amended complaint in case No. MICRF-08-46891 with unlawful taking of a vehicle (Veh. Code, § 10851, subd. (a); count 1); unlawful receipt of stolen property (Pen. Code, § 496, subd. (a); counts 2 and 4); grand theft (Pen. Code, § 487, subd. (d)(1); count 3); vandalism (Pen. Code, § 594, subd. (a)(1); count 5); unlawful possession of a concealed firearm (§ 12025, subd. (a)(1); count 6); and unlawful possession of a loaded firearm (§ 12031, subd. (a)(1); count 7.) On April 10, 2009, defendant was charged in a complaint in case No. MBCRF-09-48188 with arson through the use of a device designed to accelerate the fire (Pen. Code, §§ 451, subd. (c), 451.1, subd. (a)).

Meanwhile, on February 6, 2009, defense counsel expressed a doubt as to defendant's competence to stand trial. The trial court suspended criminal proceedings under section 1368 and appointed two experts, Drs. Veronica Thomas and Nicholas Dogris, both psychologists, to evaluate and report on his mental condition. Defendant retained a third expert, Dr. Gordon Plotkin, a psychiatrist, to do the same. Over defendant's objection, defense counsel waived a jury trial. The trial court conducted a hearing on April 16, 2009, at which the prosecutor and defense counsel stipulated, over defendant's objection, to submit on the bases of the reports of the three experts.

All three experts stated in their reports that defendant suffered from a serious mental illness. Dr. Thomas opined that defendant had a mental disorder, "likely a psychotic disorder such as paranoid schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder." Dr. Dogris stated his opinion that defendant "meets the criteria for Paranoid Schizophrenia." Dr. Plotkin stated that "it appears that this is an endogenous illness, such as Schizophrenia, but one cannot rule out an organic illness related to head trauma, exposure to altitude,[*fn3 ] or other intracranial or metabolic processes." Defendant told all three experts he had had a bicycle accident in 1979 that resulted in a head injury and loss of consciousness, and while he was in the hospital, the government had inserted a microchip in his head, which was used to control him. All three experts concluded that defendant was able to understand the nature and purpose of the criminal proceedings; however, Drs. Plotkin and Dogris expressed their opinions that defendant was incompetent to stand trial because his ability to assist counsel in conducting his defense in a rational manner was impaired. Dr. Thomas believed defendant's mental disorder did not preclude defendant from assisting his attorney in conducting a defense, and he was therefore competent to stand trial.

Following the hearing, the trial court found defendant had a mental disorder that affected his ability to assist defense counsel in a rational manner. However, on April 28, 2009, the trial court vacated the findings and orders it had made on April 16 and set the matter for a Marsden*fn4 hearing. The trial court held the Marsden hearing on May 5 and denied defendant's request for substitution of counsel.

On May 12, 2009, the trial court continued the matter for a second competency hearing, and on June 9, the trial court conducted a second competency hearing for both cases. The parties again submitted on the bases of the experts' reports, over defendant's objection. Following the hearing, the trial court again found defendant was incompetent to stand trial. The trial court ordered the Inyo County mental health director to evaluate defendant and make a written recommendation as to whether he should be required to undergo treatment as an outpatient or at a treatment facility. On June 23, 2009, based on the recommendation of Dr. Jeanette Schneider, the trial court ordered that defendant be transferred to a state hospital. Defendant filed a notice of appeal from the trial court's order.

Defendant declared he would not take antipsychotic medication voluntarily. On August 6, 2009, the trial court held a hearing to determine whether defendant should be involuntarily medicated. At the hearing, the trial court took the telephonic testimony of Drs. Schneider and Plotkin, and defendant testified in his own behalf. Following the hearing, the trial court ordered the involuntary administration of psychotropic medication to defendant under section 1370, subdivision (a)(2)(B)(III).

On September 1, 2009, the trial court issued its commitment order and fixed the maximum term of confinement at three years. Defendant filed a notice of appeal from the order authorizing his involuntary medication.

Additional facts are set forth in the discussion of the issues to which they pertain.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Appealability

Defendant appeals from (1) the trial court's order determining him to be incompetent and committing him to a state hospital, and (2) the trial court's order authorizing involuntary administration of antipsychotic drugs. The People contend the orders appealed from are not appealable.

1. Order of Commitment to State Hospital

Our Supreme Court has established that an order determining the defendant to be incompetent and committing him to a state hospital is appealable as a final judgment in a special proceeding. (People v. Fields (1965) 62 Cal.2d 538, 542 (Fields).) The holding in Fields was based on Code of Civil Procedure former section 963, subdivision 1, which authorized an appeal "[f]rom a final judgment entered in a special proceeding." (Fields, supra, at p. 540.) The currently applicable successor to this statute does not refer to special proceedings and merely authorizes an appeal "[f]rom a judgment." (Code Civ. Proc., § 904.1, subd. (a)(1).) However, the Supreme Court has held that "[t]he meaning is the same." (Sullivan v. Delta Air Lines, Inc. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 288, 304.) Thus, this court unquestionably has jurisdiction to address defendant's challenge to the commitment order on direct appeal.

2. Order Authorizing Involuntary Administration of Antipsychotic Drugs

Section 1370 provides that during the defendant's confinement, either the defendant or the People may request court review of an order authorizing involuntary medication. (§ 1370, subd. (a)(1)(F)(2)(B)(v).) The People contend that, in the context of the statutory scheme, such review is to be conducted in the trial court. We note, however, that other provisions of the statute provide for regular periodic reviews in the trial court, and the People's interpretation of the statute would tend to render those more specific provisions surplusage. (§ 1370, subd. (b)(1)-(4).) Moreover, in People v. O'Dell (2005) 126 Cal.App.4th 562, 566 & ...


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