Super. Ct. Nos. M-10354& M-11042 Original proceedings; petition for a writ of mandate/prohibition to challenge an order of the Superior Court of Orange County, James P. Marion, Judge. Petition granted.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'leary, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION
While two petitions to extend real party in interest Alan Rigby's commitment as a sexually violent predator (SVP) were pending, the trial court granted Rigby's request to petition the court for conditional release pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 6608.*fn1 Petitioner, the Orange County District Attorney
(the District Attorney), contends the trial court's order permitting Rigby to petition for conditional release while not currently committed under the Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA) was an act in excess of the court's jurisdiction. We agree.
In December 1997, the District Attorney filed the original petition to commit Rigby as an SVP pursuant to section 6604. In November of the following year, a jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Rigby met the qualifications of an SVP and a trial court ordered him committed to a secure facility for a period of two years. Prior to the expiration of his commitment, the District Attorney filed a second petition to extend Rigby's commitment, and a third petition before the expiration of the second petition. The second and third petitions were consolidated for trial, and on December 30, 2003, the trial court sustained the petitions, finding Rigby met the criteria of an SVP and ordered him committed for a consecutive period of two years on each petition.
On October 27, 2004, prior to the expiration of Rigby's third commitment, the District Attorney filed a fourth petition (M-10354), the subject of this writ petition, seeking to extend Rigby's commitment for another two years. On November 12, 2004, the trial court made a finding pursuant to section 6601.5 that the petition contained sufficient facts that constituted probable cause that Rigby is likely to engage in sexually violent predatory criminal behavior if released and ordered him detained in a secure facility until his probable cause hearing.
While the fourth petition was still pending, on October 13, 2006, the District Attorney filed a fifth petition (M-11042), also the subject of this writ petition. The fifth petition seeks an indeterminate commitment based on the passage of Proposition 83 in 2006, which eliminated the two-year commitment in favor of an indeterminate term of commitment. (§§ 6604, 6604.1.) As the trial court did with the fourth petition, on October 27, 2006, it found pursuant to section 6601.5 that the fifth petition also contains prima facie evidence that probable cause exists to believe Rigby is likely to engage in sexually violent predatory criminal behavior if released and ordered him detained in a secure facility until his probable cause hearing.
After having been detained without a probable cause hearing since 2004 on the fourth petition, and since 2006 on the fifth petition, Rigby filed a notice of petition for conditional release pursuant to section 6608 on January 27, 2010. Attached to the petition was an evaluation from one expert stating Rigby meets the criteria of an SVP, and evaluations from two other experts stating Rigby does not meet the criteria of an SVP. After argument, the trial court made a finding, during Rigby's absence, that he is committed and therefore entitled to petition for conditional release.
At the hearing, the trial court chronicled the lengthy procedural history of the case. Apparently the newest member to the case, the trial court sought an explanation from the parties concerning the extraordinary delay in the case and then stated, "I think that what we have here -- I think it's a de facto commitment. . . . That, in fact, he has been committed many times. A couple of times. That's what I'm going to rule. I think the language suggests that. It was ten years? [¶] . . . He's been committed. So I think as a -- it just appears it's a de facto commitment. Now, he hasn't had the probable cause where he hasn't had another commitment, but for all intents and purposes, if you look at it, that's the only way I can look at it. . . . [¶] [B]ut the language of [section] 6608*fn2 refers to a person who has been committed, is committed, and to the person committed. Those are in paragraphs A, C, and D of [section] 6608. [¶] Again, in construing a statute, the first step is to look at its language and give effect to its plain meaning.
[¶] And I think it's -- he's been committed. It doesn't have to be on the one presently. [¶] So what I'm going to do is I'm going to find that he's committed."
As a result of the trial court's ruling, the District Attorney filed a motion for declaratory relief, or in the alternative a motion for reconsideration, challenging whether the trial court had jurisdiction to proceed on Rigby's petition for conditional release. In May 2010, the trial court granted the District Attorney's motion to reconsider its prior ruling, and after briefing and argument, the court affirmed its previous ruling and added the following statement to the dockets in case Nos. M-9719 (the petition sustained in 2003 and expired in 2004), M-10354, and M-11042 (the pending fourth and fifth petitions): "The Court states in closing that, for all practical purposes, [Rigby] is under a de facto commitment as a[n] [SVP]. Therefore, based on principles of due process and fundamental fairness, combined with the ambiguity of the SVPA concerning individuals with expired commitments who are awaiting trial on recommitment petitions, this [c]court construes section 6608 to allow [Rigby] to apply for conditional release. By this ruling,
the [c]court expresses no opinion on whether [Rigby] is suitable for conditional release. That will take a separate hearing at which [Rigby] will have the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence to establish that he would not be a danger to others due to his diagnosed mental disorder while under the supervision and treatment in the community. [[§] 6608[, subd.] (d)(i)]. Subdivision (j) of section 6608 provides that where, as here, the petition for conditional release was not made by the director of the treatment facility to which [Rigby] is confined, the [c]court can take no action on the petition without first obtaining the written recommendation of the director of the treatment facility. Therefore, this [c]court orders the director of Coalinga State Hospital to provide this [c]court with its written recommendation on [Rigby's] petition for conditional release pursuant to section 6608. The director's recommendation shall be filed within
30 days of the date of this order."
At the outset, we detail the District Attorney's and Rigby's contentions. Next, we determine whether this matter is appropriate for appellate review. To establish the proper framework for our analysis, we then explain the SVPA's statutory scheme. Finally, we apply the applicable legal principles to resolve the issue before us.
The District Attorney asserts the trial court erred in construing section 6608 to permit a previously committed SVP to apply for conditional release. Contrary to the trial court's interpretation of section 6608, the District Attorney contends section 6608's plain language reserves the right to petition for conditional release to those individuals who have been "committed." The District Attorney insists once a commitment expires, the individual is no longer "committed" within ...