People v. Peyton: California’s Sexually Violent Predator Act
Under California Welfare and Institutions Code, a person who was previously designated as a “sexually violent predator” can be unconditionally discharged if they no longer meet the definition under Section 6604.9(d). In the case of People v. Peyton, however, the court held that California’s Sexually Violent Predator Act does not authorize a sexually violent predator to directly petition for unconditional discharge without a favorable evaluation from the Director of State Hospitals. This article will detail the findings from the case.
In 1986, Peyton pled guilty to 11 counts of lewd and lascivious acts in a California court, stemming from his sexual molestation of young children who were babysat by his then-wife. He was sentenced to prison for 26 years. In addition, he was convicted of three counts of sexual assault on a child in a Colorado court, again stemming from his sexual molestation of three young children. He was sentenced to prison for 16 years, to be served concurrently with his California sentence. After he completed his criminal sentence, Peyton was transferred to a mental health facility.
In 2009, the People filed a petition to designate Peyton as a sexually violent predator. Upon admitting to the petition’s allegations, Peyton was found to be a sexually violent predator and was committed to the custody of the Director of State Hospitals. He refused all treatment, and each of his psychological evaluations in the five years following concluded that he was not suitable for unconditional discharge or conditional release. As such, he continued to be classified as a sexually violent predator.
In 2021, Peyton filed a petition seeking unconditional discharge, attaching two psychological evaluations that stated that Peyton no longer met the sexually violent predator definition. While this petition was pending, the Director of State Hospitals concluded in his annual psychological evaluation of Peyton that Peyton was not suitable for unconditional discharge. The trial court denied Peyton’s petition, reasoning that a petition for an unconditional discharge may only be made when the Director authorizes such a petition, and Peyton appealed.
The appellate court affirmed the findings of the lower court, finding that the lower court’s denial of Peyton’s request for unconditional discharge did not deny him due process. They held that to directly petition for unconditional discharge, a sexually violent predator must be evaluated by the Director of State Hospitals. In the court’s discussion, they examined both substantive and procedural due process.
Regarding substantive due process, the court established that if the person committed is both mentally ill and dangerous, that person may be indefinitely committed, subject to periodic review of the person’s suitability for release. In this case, Peyton was considered a sexually violent predator, meaning that he had already been found beyond a reasonable doubt to be both mentally ill and dangerous. Therefore, he could permissibly be indefinitely confined while subject to periodic review.
In terms of procedural due process, the court asked whether a sexually violent predator is deprived of procedural due process because they are required to first petition for a one-year conditional release before seeking unconditional discharge when their evaluation does not find them suitable for an unconditional discharge. Ultimately, the court concluded that the answer is no. Due to Peyton’s mental illness and dangerous propensities, it does not offend procedural due process to require him to proceed through two steps before an unconditional discharge.
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