The 5th Amendment Privilege Against Compulsory Self-Incrimination

In Cramer v. Tyars (1979) 23 Cal.3d 131, the California Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a person who was the subject of a petition for civil commitment under former section 6502 commitment of a mentally retarded person who has been found incompetent to stand trial could be called, over his objection, as a witness at the commitment hearing. The court began its analysis by stressing the two "separate and distinct testimonial privileges." (Cramer, supra, at p. 137.) "In a criminal matter a defendant has an absolute right not to be called as a witness and not to testify. (Amend. V of the U.S. Const. and art. I, 15, of the Cal. Const. as codified in Evid. Code, 930.) Further, in any proceeding, civil or criminal, a witness has the right to decline to answer questions which may tend to incriminate him in criminal activity (Evid. Code, 940). However, . . . notwithstanding these privileges, no witness has a privilege to refuse to reveal to the trier of fact his or her physical or mental characteristics where they are relevant to the issues under consideration." (Cramer, supra, 23 Cal.3d at p. 137.) Determining that the commitment proceedings under former section 6502 were "predominantly civil," our Supreme Court ruled that the "appellant did not have an absolute right, as does a defendant in a criminal action, not to be called as a witness and not to testify. As expressed by the highest authority, the historic purpose of the privilege against being called as a witness has been to assure that the criminal justice system remains accusatorial, not inquisitorial. The extension of the privilege to an area outside the criminal justice system . . . would contravene both the language and purpose of the privilege." (Cramer, supra, 23 Cal.3d at pp. 137-138.) The court further stated: "Reason and common sense suggest that it is appropriate under such circumstances that a jury be permitted fully to observe the person sought to be committed, and to hear him or her speak and respond in order that it may make an informed judgment as to the level of his or her mental and intellectual functioning. The receipt of such evidence may be analogized to the disclosure of physical as opposed to testimonial evidence and may in fact be the most reliable proof and probative indicator of the person's present mental condition." (Cramer, supra, 23 Cal.3d at p. 139.) Accordingly, the court in Cramer held that "while appellant could properly be called as a witness at his commitment proceeding, like any other individual in any proceeding, civil or criminal, he could not be required to give evidence which would tend to incriminate him in any criminal activity and which could subject him to criminal prosecution." (Cramer, supra, 23 Cal.3d at p. 138.) Subsequently, in Allen v. Illinois (1986) 478 U.S. 364, the United States Supreme Court considered whether "the proceedings under the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act . . . Il.Rev.Stat., ch. 38, 105-1.01 et seq. are 'criminal' within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against compulsory self-incrimination." (Allen v. Illinois, supra, at p. 365.) The issue arose in the context of the examining psychiatrists' testimony in the commitment proceeding regarding the appellant's statements during their interviews. The appellant argued that "because the sexually-dangerous-person proceeding is itself 'criminal,' he was entitled to refuse to answer any questions at all." (Id. at p. 368.) Reviewing the privilege against self-incrimination, the Supreme Court stated: "The Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, , provides that no person 'shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.' This Court has long held that the privilege against self-incrimination 'not only permits a person to refuse to testify against himself at a criminal trial in which he is a defendant, but also "privileges him not to answer official questions put to him in any other proceeding, civil or criminal, formal or informal, where the answers might incriminate him in future criminal proceedings."' " (Allen v. Illinois, supra, 478 U.S. at p. 368.) After finding that Illinois intended its commitment proceedings for sexually dangerous persons to be civil in nature, the Supreme Court ruled that "this Court has never held that the Due Process Clause of its own force requires application of the privilege against self-incrimination in a noncriminal proceeding, where the privilege claimant is protected against his compelled answers in any subsequent criminal case. We decline to do so today." (Allen v. Illinois, supra, 478 U.S. at p. 374.) More recently, the California Supreme Court in People v. Allen (2008) 44 Cal.4th 843, addressed the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against compulsory self-incrimination in a proceeding under the SVPA. The issue in Allen was whether the defendant had a constitutional due process right to testify in a SVPA proceeding over the objection of counsel. (Id. at p. 870.) In determining that the defendant had the right, the court stated, among other things, that "proceedings to commit an individual as a sexually violent predator in order to protect the public are civil in nature. Therefore, the Fifth Amendment's guarantee against compulsory self-incrimination does not apply in proceedings under the SVPA. " (Id. at p. 860; see also In re Scott (2003) 29 Cal.4th 783, 815 constitutional right not to be called as a witness does not extend to proceedings essentially civil in nature; People v. Leonard (2000) 78 Cal.App.4th 776, 793 (Leonard) Allan v. Illinois, supra, 478 U.S. 364 defeats defendant's claim that district attorney could not call him as a witness in SVPA proceedings.)