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Smeltzer v. King

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 16, 2017

MATTHEW L. SMELTZER, Petitioner,
v.
AUDREY KING, Respondent.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM Q. HAYES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The matter before the Court is the review of the Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 17) issued by the United States Magistrate Judge .

         I. Background

         In 2010, the San Diego District Attorney's Office filed an Amended Petition for Involuntary Treatment of a Sexually Violent Predator under California Welfare and Institutions Code § 6600 et seq. against Petitioner Matthew L. Smeltzer. (ECF No. 15-1 at 20-23). A jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Smeltzer was a sexually violent predator, and the trial court ordered that Smeltzer be committed to the Department of Mental Health for an indeterminate term. See ECF No. 15-1 at 133-136; Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 6604. Smeltzer filed a direct appeal of his commitment in the California Court of Appeal in June 2012. (ECF No. 15-2 at 92). In August 2013, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's rulings in an unpublished opinion. (ECF No. 15-5).

         In May 2014, Smeltzer commenced this action by filing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 1). In June 2014, this Court issued an Order construing the action as a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 2). In May 2015, Smeltzer filed the First Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (the “Petition”). (ECF No. 8). Respondent Audrey King filed an Answer in July 2015. (ECF No. 15). In August 2015, Smeltzer filed a Traverse. (ECF No. 16).

         In February 2016, the United States Magistrate Judge issued the Report and Recommendation, recommending that this court deny the Petition. (ECF No. 17). In June 2016, the Court issued an Order appointing counsel to represent Smeltzer. (ECF No. 19). In April 2017, Smeltzer filed an Objection to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 28). King filed a Reply in May 2017. (ECF No. 30).

         II. Legal Standard

         The duties of the district court in connection with a report and recommendation of a magistrate judge are set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The district judge must “make a de novo determination of those portions of the report . . . to which objection is made, ” and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b).

         III. Analysis

         Smeltzer's Petition asserts the following five grounds for relief: (1) the trial court violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process when it prevented his counsel from asking expert witnesses certain questions; (2) the instructions given to his jury violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process; (3) his indeterminate commitment violates his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection; (4) his indeterminate commitment violated his rights under the Due Process Clause, the Ex Post Facto Clause, and the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause; and (5) his indeterminate commitment violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Court addresses each ground for relief below.

         A. Ground One: The Expert Witness Testimony

         1. Background

         The California Welfare and Institutions Code § 6604 provides that, if “the court or jury determines that [a] person is a sexually violent predator, the person shall be committed for an indeterminate term to the custody of the State Department of State Hospitals for appropriate treatment and confinement in a secure facility . . . .” A “[s]exually violent predator” is “a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense . . . and who has 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.” Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 6600(a)(1). A “‘[d]iagnosed mental disorder' includes 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. at § 6600(d).

         At Smeltzer's trial, the government called two expert witnesses (Dr. Robert Owen and Dr. Eric Simon) and Smeltzer called one (Dr. Alan Abrams). (ECF No. 17 at 11-12). All three experts testified about the standard that they used to determine whether Smeltzer has a “volitional impairment, ” id. at 10-17, i.e. a “condition affecting [his] . . . volitional capacity that predisposes [him] to the commission of criminal sexual acts in a degree constituting [him] a menace to the health and safety of others, ” Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 6600(a)(1). However, the trial court did not permit Smeltzer's counsel to ask certain specific questions about People v. Burris, 126 Cal.Rptr.2d 113 (Cal.Ct.App. 2002). Id. Smeltzer contends that the trial court violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process when it prevented his counsel from asking those questions. (ECF No. 8 ...


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