Monday, December 03, 2007

People v. Cobb (Cal. Ct. App. - Nov. 28, 2007)

You were ordered committed -- in an ostensibly civil proceeding -- to a state hospital for a year based upon your then-existing psychiatric state. Your commitment ends on May 27, 2006.

For what it's worth, pursuant to a state statute, if the state wants to try to recommit you for another year, the trial has to start at least 30 days before your scheduled commitment ends (unless there's good cause). Regardless, remember, you were only ordered committed for a year.

The state wants to recommit you. Trial's scheduled for April 24th, which is 30+ days from your May 27th release date. So far, so good. But on April 24th, the state asks for more time on the ground that the particular prosecutor assigned to your case is on vacation. You object, but the court delays the trial until May 2nd. Within the 30 day deadline, but whatever. That's a state law issue.

On May 2nd, the court orders the case trailed because it's doing a different case. And on May 4th the state asks (over your objection) and the court orders the trial delayed until June 9th because one of the state's experts was allegedly unavailable.

Now, I'm not at all sure that these things in fact count as "good cause" for delaying the trial. There are other prosecutors. And other experts. And the state's gotta get it together, in my mind, and realize that state law requires the trial 30 days before the release date. So if that means getting a different prosecutor or expert (unless there's a sudden illness, or similarly unanticipated problems, none of which appears to exist here), so be it.

But, again, these are state law issues. And ones on which reasonable minds might disagree.

But let me ask you one more question. It's now May 27th. Your release date. You were only ordered committed for a year. Can the state keep you in the hospital against your will, without a hearing, while it waits to conduct the recommitment trial? You say, essentially, "Hey, I was committed for only a year, and that time is up. Let me go. You can recommit me if you want to try, but you can't keep me in here for longer than my 'sentence'. I'm free in the meantime, and you gotta give me a hearing before you hold me once my 1-year sentence is up. I deserve to be free at least on the same basis as a prisoner whose sentence is up. Give me a hearing or let me go." Are you right? Do you have a right -- indeed, inter alia, a federal constitutional right -- to have at least a hearing on the merits before you're detained after you've done your year? And do you have a right to be free from the state's custody after the order that permitted you to be held as expired?

Answer: No. At least according to Justice Richli.