California State Sexually Violent Predator Law and Landmark Cases

"The Sexually Violent Predator Act ( 6600 et seq.) provides for the involuntary civil commitment of an offender immediately upon release from prison if the offender is found to be a sexually violent predator. The act 'was enacted to identify incarcerated individuals who suffer from mental disorders that predispose them to commit violent criminal sexual acts, and to confine and treat such individuals until it is determined they no longer present a threat to society.' A sexually violent predator is defined as 'a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against one or more victims 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.' ( 6600, subd. (a)(1).)" (Lee v. Superior Court (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 1108, 1122 99 Cal.Rptr.3d 712.) The commitment process under the act (Sexually Violent Predator Act) begins when the secretary of corrections "determines that an individual who is in custody under the jurisdiction of ... Corrections ... , and who is either serving a determinate prison sentence or whose parole has been revoked, may be" a sexually violent predator. ( 6601, subd. (a)(1).) When that happens, the secretary must "refer the person for evaluation in accordance with this section" "at least six months prior to that individual's scheduled date for release from prison." ( 6601, subd. (a)(1).) The first step in the evaluation process is a preliminary "screening" performed by corrections and the board "based on whether the person has committed a sexually violent predatory offense and on a review of the person's social, criminal, and institutional history." ( 6601, subd. (b).) "If as a result of this screening it is determined that the person is likely to be a sexually violent predator, ... Corrections ... shall refer the person to ... Mental Health for a full evaluation of whether the person meets the criteria in Section 6600." ( 6601, subd. (b).) During the "full evaluation" conducted by mental health, the person is evaluated by two psychologists or psychiatrists. ( 6601, subds. (b) & (d).) If after examining the person both professionals agree he or she "has a diagnosed mental disorder so that he or she is likely to engage in acts of sexual violence without appropriate treatment and custody," a commitment petition may be filed. ( 6601, subds. (d) & (i).) When there is a split of opinion between the evaluators, independent professionals are brought in to evaluate the person, and a petition may be filed only if both independent evaluators believe he or she meets the sexually violent predator criteria. ( 6601, subds. (e) & (f).) "Upon a showing of good cause, the Board ... may order that a person referred to ... Mental Health pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 6601 remain in custody for no more than 45 days beyond the person's scheduled release date for full evaluation pursuant to subdivisions (c) to (i), inclusive, of Section 6601." ( 6601.3.) A petition to commit a person as a sexually violent predator may be filed only "if the individual is in custody pursuant to his or her determinate prison term, parole revocation term, or a hold placed pursuant to Section 6601.3, at the time the petition is filed." ( 6601(a)(2).) While section 6601 requires actual custody to file a sexually violent predator petition, "lawful custody has never been a jurisdictional prerequisite to filing a petition ..." under the act. (People v. Wakefield (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 893, 898; see also People v. Superior Court (Small) (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 301, 306-307.) Thus, the fact that a person was unlawfully in custody at the time the petition was filed does not necessarily preclude or invalidate proceedings on the petition. The act specifically provides that "a petition shall not be dismissed on the basis of a later judicial or administrative determination that the individual's custody was unlawful, if the unlawful custody was the result of a good faith mistake of fact or law." ( 6601(a)(2).) This necessarily implies that the petition should be dismissed if the unlawful custody was not the result of a good faith mistake." (People v. Badura (2002) 95 Cal.App.4th 1218, 1224.)