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California Sexual Predator Commitment Requires Trial; Cannot be Based on Civil Discovery Admissions

The California Court of Appeal, District 4, held that the civil commitment of sexual predators (Cal. Welfare and Institutions Code § 6600 et seq.) cannot be obtained upon admissions propounded under civil discovery rules. To do so, the court held, would deprive the state of its burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt to a unanimous jury, in violation of the due process liberty interests of the defendant.

The San Bernardino District Attorney filed a petition under § 6600 to have Richard Murillo civilly committed after he had been paroled to a mental hospital following his prison sentence for corporal injury on a spouse or child. The D.A. served Murillo with a set of 14 requests for admissions regarding prior molestation convictions, descriptions of his lewd acts, whether they constituted the requisite legal conduct required to commit him (§ 6600.1), and whether his mental disorder predisposed him to engage in future sexually violent predatory criminal behavior. In other words, his liberty interest in having these facts proved to a jury were being demanded of him in discovery, circumventing his right to an adversarial trial and obviating the need for the D.A. to prove anything.

Murillo objected and filed a motion for a protective order to stop the discovery, which the Superior Court denied. Murillo sought relief in the Court of Appeal to command the Superior Court to grant the order. The D.A. argued weakly that even if Murillo made the admissions, he could still have (i.e., go through the motions of) a trial. The court rejected this summarily as an illegal ?directed verdict.? The D.A. then had the temerity to suggest that Murillo was not forced to admit any request, even if true. But since such admissions must be made under oath, the D.A. was shamefully inveigling Murillo to lie. ?We cannot endorse what may be a suggestion that petitioner retain his right to due process by perjuring himself,? the appellate court admonished, noting that ?[a] foundational purpose of the Civil Discovery Act is to avoid gamesmanship in litigation.?

Accordingly, the court concluded that the only remedy consistent with the due process protections of Murillo?s liberty interests was to ban requests for admissions in § 6600 proceedings. The appeals court issued a writ of mandate directing the Superior Court to grant Murillo?s protective order. See: Murillo v. Superior Court, 143 Cal.App.4th 730, 49 Cal.Rptr.3d 511 (Cal.App. 4 Dist., 2006).

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Related legal case

Murillo v. Superior Court