PEOPLE v. WOLIN

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Court of Appeal, First District, Division 1, California.

PEOPLE of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Clifford Gilbert WOLIN, Defendant and Appellant.

No. A053716.

Decided: March 25, 1992

Daniel E. Lungren, Atty. Gen., George Williamson, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., John H. Sugiyama, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., Ronald E. Niver, Super. Deputy Atty. Gen., Bruce Ortega, Deputy Atty. Gen., San Francisco, for plaintiff and respondent. Corinne S. Shulman, Shulman, Shulman & Siegel, Hydesville, for defendant and appellant.

Three separate misdemeanor complaints were filed against appellant in the Municipal Court of Mendocino County:  the first, filed on August 7, 1990, charged appellant with three counts of assault (Pen.Code, § 240) 1 and three counts of battery (§ 242);  the second and third were filed on December 20, 1990, and February 25, 1991, respectively, and both charged appellant with disobeying a court order (§ 166, subd. 4).   Pursuant to section 1368, proceedings on all three complaints were suspended on March 22, 1991, upon a finding of doubt as to appellant's mental competence to stand trial.   Accordingly, two doctors were appointed to examine appellant, and he was certified to the superior court for a hearing and determination of his mental competence.

After a jury trial in superior court, appellant was found incompetent to stand trial within the meaning of section 1368.   On May 15, 1991, the court ordered appellant committed to Atascadero State Hospital for care and treatment for a total term not to exceed 18 months, with credit for 81 days time served.   Appellant filed a notice of appeal and thereafter a petition for writ of habeas corpus, both of which challenge the duration of his commitment under section 1370, subdivision (c)(1), which, in pertinent part provides that the commitment period of a defendant confined for incompetence is “three years” or “the maximum term of imprisonment provided by law for the most serious offense charged in the information, indictment, or misdemeanor complaint, whichever is shorter.”

 While this issue has been rendered moot by appellant's return to the court and the disposition of criminal proceedings against him, we have nevertheless decided to resolve the issue of statutory interpretation as a matter of continuing public interest which is likely to recur.2  (Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Fales (1973) 8 Cal.3d 712, 716, 106 Cal.Rptr. 21, 505 P.2d 213;  Mountain Lion Coalition v. Fish & Game Com. (1989) 214 Cal.App.3d 1043, 1045, fn. 2, 263 Cal.Rptr. 104;  Schraer v. Berkeley Property Owners' Assn. (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 719, 728, 255 Cal.Rptr. 453.)

Appellant argues that the maximum period of commitment under section 1370, subdivision (c)(1), cannot exceed the “shorter” of either three years or the “maximum term of imprisonment provided by law for the most serious underlying offense” charged against a criminal defendant.   He complains that the statute does not countenance “aggregation” of terms, as if consecutive sentencing were being imposed, but rather requires the court to select and impose only the “single most serious offense” of all those charged as the maximum term of a commitment order.   The Attorney General replies that where, as here, multiple complaints have been filed against a criminal defendant, the court may “aggregate the most serious offenses” in each complaint to impose a total term of commitment not exceeding three years.3

We must construe the commitment limitation provisions of section 1370, subdivision (c)(1) in a manner which will effectuate the legislative intent.  (People v. Woodhead (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1002, 1007, 239 Cal.Rptr. 656, 741 P.2d 154;  Young v. Haines (1986) 41 Cal.3d 883, 897, 226 Cal.Rptr. 547, 718 P.2d 909.)   In determining such intent, “we look first to the words themselves.”  (People v. Woodhead, supra, 43 Cal.3d at p. 1007, 239 Cal.Rptr. 656, 741 P.2d 154;  see also People v. Overstreet (1986) 42 Cal.3d 891, 895, 231 Cal.Rptr. 213, 726 P.2d 1288.)  “It is a paramount canon of statutory construction that statutes should be given effect according to the usual and ordinary import of the words used in the statute.”  Guedalia v. Superior Court (1989) 211 Cal.App.3d 1156, 1160, 260 Cal.Rptr. 99.)  “When the language is susceptible of more than one reasonable interpretation, however, we look to a variety of extrinsic aids, including the ostensible objects to be achieved, the evils to be remedied, the legislative history, public policy, contemporaneous administrative construction, and the statutory scheme of which the statute is a part.  [Citations.]”  (People v. Woodhead, supra, 43 Cal.3d at p. 1008, 239 Cal.Rptr. 656, 741 P.2d 154.)

Section 1370, subdivision (c)(1), limits commitment to the lesser of either three years or “the maximum term of imprisonment provided by law for the most serious offense charged in the information, indictment or misdemeanor complaint.” 4  If a single accusatory pleading has been filed against a criminal defendant, the statute plainly mandates that he be returned to the court for redetermination of competency after (1) three years, or (2) the maximum term of imprisonment for the most serious offense charged in that pleading.  (People v. Waterman (1986) 42 Cal.3d 565, 568, 229 Cal.Rptr. 796, 724 P.2d 482;  In re Conservatorship of Hofferber (1980) 28 Cal.3d 161, 169, 167 Cal.Rptr. 854, 616 P.2d 836.) 5  The statute does not specifically provide for computation of the maximum term of commitment where the order encompasses more than one accusatory pleading, each of which charges a “most serious offense.”   Hence, we must endeavor to ascertain the legislative intent by examining the objectives to be served by the statute.  (People v. Shirokow (1980) 26 Cal.3d 301, 306–307, 162 Cal.Rptr. 30, 605 P.2d 859.)

 Section 1370 is part of a “comprehensive scheme for dealing with criminal defendants whose mental competency is suspect.”  (People v. Bye (1981) 116 Cal.App.3d 569, 571, 172 Cal.Rptr. 186.)   The statutory scheme provides that, upon a finding of a defendant's incompetence to stand trial, criminal proceedings shall be suspended, and the defendant committed for treatment designed to restore his competence.  (§§ 1367–1370;  People v. Waterman, supra, 42 Cal.3d at p. 568, 229 Cal.Rptr. 796, 724 P.2d 482.)   A defendant found mentally incompetent to stand trial is not subject to criminal sanctions.  (People v. Mayes (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 908, 915, 248 Cal.Rptr. 899.)   The primary purpose of the pretrial confinement of incompetent defendants is neither punishment nor rehabilitation, but the restoration of that specific mental state without which the criminal process cannot proceed.   (People v. Waterman, supra, 42 Cal.3d at p. 569, 229 Cal.Rptr. 796, 724 P.2d 482.)

 Nevertheless, commitment of a mentally incompetent defendant must comport with due process principles.  (Jackson v. Indiana (1972) 406 U.S. 715, 730, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 1854, 32 L.Ed.2d 435;  In re Davis (1973) 8 Cal.3d 798, 801, 106 Cal.Rptr. 178, 505 P.2d 1018.)   Commitments of indefinite duration are invalid:  “no person charged with a criminal offense and committed to a state hospital solely on account of his incapacity to proceed to trial may be so confined more than a reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial likelihood that he will recover that capacity in the foreseeable future.”  (Ibid.)  Pretrial confinement of incompetent defendants beyond the maximum period for a charged offense violates basic notions of fairness and due process.  (Ibid.;  see also In re Banks (1979) 88 Cal.App.3d 864, 869, 152 Cal.Rptr. 111.)

 The confinement limitation provisions of section 1370 were enacted to bring California's laws for confinement of incompetent criminal defendants within constitutional bounds.  (Stats.1974, ch. 1511, §§ 1–16, p. 3316 et seq.)  (Conservatorship of Hofferber, supra, 28 Cal.3d at p. 169, 167 Cal.Rptr. 854, 616 P.2d 836;  see also In re Mary T. (1985) 176 Cal.App.3d 38, 42, 221 Cal.Rptr. 364.)   Section 1370 evinces a legislative intent to prevent undue confinement of incompetent defendants who cannot be returned to competence, and to promote speedy restoration to mental competence of those who can.  (People v. Mixon (1991) 225 Cal.App.3d 1471, 1481, 275 Cal.Rptr. 817.) 6  Restoration of mental competence is not, however, the sole interest furthered by section 1370.   The statutory scheme also recognizes the compelling state interests in public safety and the humane treatment of the mentally disturbed.  (Conservatorship of Hofferber, supra, 28 Cal.3d at p. 171, 167 Cal.Rptr. 854, 616 P.2d 836.)   By weighing whenever possible the compelling interest in avoiding undue confinement against the equally exigent need to protect society from dangerous persons who are mentally ill, the Legislature has made valid statutory distinctions respecting the length and conditions of confinement based upon the degree of perceived danger presented by a defendant.  (Id. at pp. 172–173, 167 Cal.Rptr. 854, 616 P.2d 836.)

 In our view, neither due process principles nor statutory objectives are compromised by construing section 1370, subdivision (c)(1), in a manner which authorizes commitment for the maximum term for the most serious offense charged in each accusatory pleading pending against a criminal defendant adjudged incompetent to stand trial.   The objective of restoring mental competence without unjustifiable confinement is not violated by requiring that the commitment expire no later than the termination of a period equal to the total of the maximum possible sentence for the most serious offenses charged in all accusatory pleadings.   A commitment of unwarranted duration is precluded by the requirement of periodic reports from the director of the commitment facility to which the defendant has been committed “concerning the defendant's progress toward recovery of mental competence,” and the mandatory termination of the commitment upon either restoration of competence or a finding in any report “that there is no substantial likelihood that the defendant will regain mental competence in the foreseeable future․” (§ 1370, subd. (b)(1).)   The maximum potential duration of pretrial confinement of an incompetent defendant under section 1370 can in no event exceed the maximum possible criminal sentence, and, if competence is restored, criminal proceedings resume.  (§ 1370, subd. (a)(1); 7 People v. Waterman, supra, 42 Cal.3d at p. 568, 229 Cal.Rptr. 796, 724 P.2d 482.)

 We are unpersuaded by appellant's argument that making the maximum term of confinement dependent upon the number of complaints filed against a criminal defendant exalts form over substance and “stresses prosecutorial convenience and discretion over the rights of confined defendants.”   The filing of multiple and separate complaints against a defendant is generally an accurate reflection of the degree of danger presented by that defendant—at least to the extent ascertainable before an adjudication of guilt.   Moreover, given that the duration of a pretrial confinement may never exceed the maximum criminal sentence permissible under the law (In re Banks, supra, 88 Cal.App.3d 864, 869, 152 Cal.Rptr. 111), including the proscription against multiple sentences for an indivisible transaction under section 654, the prosecution is effectively precluded from extending a commitment merely by filing multiple complaints against a defendant.   We construe section 1370, subdivision (c)(1), in a manner consistent with constitutional principles, to mean that only the maximum terms for separate and indivisible criminal transactions may be included in the aggregate period of commitment imposed, regardless of the number of complaints pending against the defendant.   The nature of the crimes charged rather than the number of separate complaints will, under our interpretation of the statute, effectively and properly limit the permissible maximum term of commitment under section 1370, subdivision (c)(1).   We further observe that where multiple accusatory pleadings are pending, a single term commitment limitation would flout the statutory objective of making the commitment period commensurate with the perceived danger presented by the defendant, without appreciably furthering the policies of preserving due process rights or promoting speedy restoration of competence.

We accordingly conclude that the trial court did not err by ordering appellant to be committed under section 1370, subdivision (c)(1), for an aggregate maximum term for the most serious offense charged in each of the three separate complaints filed against him.   The judgment is affirmed.

I respectfully dissent, as I believe the majority's interpretation of section 1370 raises serious doubts as to its constitutional validity.

When a defendant charged with criminal conduct has been found incompetent to stand trial, the court must suspend criminal proceedings and commit that person for treatment designed to restore competence.  (Pen.Code, §§ 1367–1370.) 1  Periodic reports and hearings on the defendant's progress toward regaining competence are required.  (§ 1370, subd. (b)(1), (2).)   But if the defendant remains incompetent, commitment of indefinite duration is not permitted.   Instead, he or she must be returned to the superior court for further proceedings after (1) three years, or (2) “the maximum term of imprisonment ․ for the most serious offense charged in the information, indictment, or misdemeanor complaint, whichever is shorter․”  (§ 1370, subd. (c)(1).) 2

As the majority explains, when only one accusatory pleading is filed, the statutory limitation is clear.   The defendant must be returned to court for a redetermination of competence after the lesser of three years or the maximum term for the single most serious offense charged in that pleading.   Not so clear, however, is the comparable limitation when a commitment order arises out of more than one accusatory pleading, as in this case.

This court's primary goal in resolving the uncertainty must be to determine the intent of the Legislature, to effectuate its purpose.   To ascertain that intent, we must begin with the statutory language, read not in isolation, but as part of the relevant statutory scheme.  (People v. Pieters (1991) 52 Cal.3d 894, 898, 276 Cal.Rptr. 918, 802 P.2d 420.)   If statutory language is reasonably amenable to alternative constructions, we should not adopt a construction which will lead to results contrary to the Legislature's apparent purpose.  (Western Oil & Gas Assn. v. Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control Dist. (1989) 49 Cal.3d 408, 425, 261 Cal.Rptr. 384, 777 P.2d 157.)   When faced with an ambiguous statute that also raises serious constitutional questions, a court must, if reasonably possible, adopt that view of the law which steers clear of constitutional obstacles and leaves no doubt of the statute's validity.  (People v. Anderson (1987) 43 Cal.3d 1104, 1146, 240 Cal.Rptr. 585, 742 P.2d 1306;  accord People v. Castro (1985) 38 Cal.3d 301, 313, 211 Cal.Rptr. 719, 696 P.2d 111;  People v. Smith (1983) 34 Cal.3d 251, 259, 193 Cal.Rptr. 692, 667 P.2d 149.)

Another rule of statutory construction, one made specifically applicable to the Penal Code, is that throughout that code, “the singular number includes the plural․” (§ 7;  People v. Jones (1988) 46 Cal.3d 585, 593, 250 Cal.Rptr. 635, 758 P.2d 1165.)   Given that rule, the maximum term limitation in section 1370 is reasonably susceptible to alternative interpretations when multiple accusatory pleadings are involved.   The majority's interpretation permits commitment for the maximum terms for the most serious offenses charged in each pleading, but an equally reasonable interpretation would permit commitment only for the maximum term for the single most serious offense charged in all pending pleadings giving rise to the commitment order.   In my view, the latter interpretation is both consistent with the legislative purpose underlying the commitment procedure and necessary to avoid possible invalidity of the statute on equal protection grounds.

Federal and state guarantees of equal protection require that persons similarly situated with respect to the legitimate purpose of the law receive like treatment.  (In re Eric J. (1979) 25 Cal.3d 522, 530–531, 159 Cal.Rptr. 317, 601 P.2d 549.)   The purpose of pretrial confinement for incompetence is restoration of a specific mental state without which the criminal process cannot go forward.  (People v. Waterman, supra, 42 Cal.3d at pp. 569–570, 229 Cal.Rptr. 796, 724 P.2d 482;  In re Davis (1973) 8 Cal.3d 798, 805–806, 106 Cal.Rptr. 178, 505 P.2d 1018.)   The statutory time limits on confinement are not related to punishment or criminal rehabilitation, because those concerns are not goals of the incompetence procedure.  (See Waterman, supra, 42 Cal.3d at p. 569, 229 Cal.Rptr. 796, 724 P.2d 482.)   Instead, the limits are intended to make the state's procedure comport with constitutional due process requirements, as both the United States Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court have invalidated indefinite commitments of incompetent criminal defendants.  (Conservatorship of Hofferber, supra, 28 Cal.3d at pp. 167–170, 167 Cal.Rptr. 854, 616 P.2d 836;  see Jackson v. Indiana (1972) 406 U.S. 715, 738, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 1858, 32 L.Ed.2d 435;  In re Davis, supra, 8 Cal.3d at p. 801, 106 Cal.Rptr. 178, 505 P.2d 1018.)

The majority's interpretation of the statute does not violate due process, but it may result in disparate treatment of similarly situated individuals which appears unrelated to the goal of restoring mental ability to stand trial.   For example, two individuals, each charged with four separate assaults allegedly committed on four separate occasions and each found incompetent to stand trial, might be subject to different maximum terms of commitment solely because the prosecutor in one case happened to proceed with a single complaint and in the other, with separate complaints for each offense.   The maximum commitment would be only six months for the first individual, but two years for the other, a difference difficult to justify.

The majority suggests that the filing of multiple complaints is generally an accurate preliminary reflection of the degree of danger presented by a defendant, a factor which may validly justify a longer confinement.   The state does have compelling interests in public safety and in humane treatment of the mentally disturbed, which may under certain circumstances justify varying the length and conditions of confinement of such persons based on degrees of danger reasonably perceived as to certain classes.  (See, e.g., Conservatorship of Hofferber, supra, 28 Cal.3d at pp. 171–173, 167 Cal.Rptr. 854, 616 P.2d 836 [justifying separate treatment of permanently incompetent criminal defendants formally charged with violent felonies, upon a showing of continuing dangerousness].)   Nevertheless, a person initially committed for incompetence has not been found to be dangerous, and the Legislature apparently did not base its commitment limits on some perceived level of danger correlated with the number of offenses charged.   The plain language of the statute reveals the Legislature's judgment that when a defendant has been charged in a single complaint, whether two crimes or ten are alleged is of no significance for purposes of determining the maximum permissible commitment.   It is difficult to reconcile that legislative judgment with an interpretation of the same statute which could make the maximum confinement of another defendant charged with only two offenses dependent on whether a single or separate complaints were filed.

I recognize that the Legislature may experiment with various therapeutic programs related to criminal charges and convictions, and that a benefit provided for one category of nonprison confinement need not automatically be provided all others.  (See, e.g., In re Huffman (1986) 42 Cal.3d 552, 561–562, 229 Cal.Rptr. 789, 724 P.2d 475 (disparity in participation credit allowances between former mentally disordered sex offenders and California Rehabilitation Center patients does not deny equal protection;  differences between two groups justify disparate treatment].)   But actual distinctions in statutory classes must realistically justify the disparities in treatment, under the appropriate standard of review.  (Id., at p. 561, 229 Cal.Rptr. 789, 724 P.2d 475.)   In my view, the different treatment of similarly situated individuals which may result from the majority's statutory construction is unlikely to pass constitutional muster under any standard of review.  (See generally, Bowens v. Superior Court (1991) 1 Cal.4th 36, 41–44, 2 Cal.Rptr.2d 376, 820 P.2d 600 [re difference between strict scrutiny and rational basis standard of review applicable to equal protection claims].)

To avoid any constitutional doubts, I would interpret section 1370, subdivision (c)(1), to mean that the defendant must be returned to the committing court if he or she has not recovered mental competence after either three years or a period of commitment equal to the maximum term for the single most serious offense charged in the accusatory pleading or pleadings, whichever is shorter.

FOOTNOTES

1.   Unless otherwise indicated, all further statutory references are to the Penal Code.

2.   Appellant's petition for writ of habeas corpus is resolved in a separate order.

3.   The difference in the case before us was between a single six-month term for assault and three six-month terms for the most serious offense charged in each complaint.

4.   In full, section 1370, subdivision (c)(1) reads:  “If, at the end of three years from the date of commitment or a period of commitment equal to the maximum term of imprisonment provided by law for the most serious offense charged in the information, indictment, or misdemeanor complaint, whichever is shorter, the defendant has not recovered mental competence, the defendant shall be returned to the committing court.   The court shall notify the community program director or a designee of such return and of any resulting court orders.”   Subdivision (a)(3)(B) of section 1370 specifies that a commitment order must include a “computation or statement setting forth the maximum term of commitment in accordance with subdivision (c).”

5.   Under section 1370, subdivision (b)(1), the defendant may also be returned to the court whenever the superintendent of the treatment facility sooner determines “that there is no substantial likelihood that the defendant will regain mental competence in the foreseeable future․”

6.   If, upon being returned to the court after confinement in a treatment facility for the maximum period provided in section 1370, the defendant is found competent, criminal proceedings are resumed;  if not, the court must either release the defendant or order that “gravely disabled” conservatorship proceedings be instituted against him under the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act. (§ 1370, subd. (c)(2);  Conservatorship of Hofferber, supra, 28 Cal.3d at pp. 169–170, 167 Cal.Rptr. 854, 616 P.2d 836;  In re Mary T., supra, 176 Cal.App.3d at p. 42, 221 Cal.Rptr. 364.)

7.   Subdivision (a)(1) of section 1370 provides, in pertinent part:  “If the defendant is found mentally incompetent, the trial or judgment shall be suspended until the person becomes mentally competent, and the court shall order that (i) in the meantime, the defendant be delivered by the sheriff to a state hospital for the care and treatment of the mentally disordered or to any other available public or private treatment facility approved by the community program director which will promote the defendant's speedy restoration to mental competence, or placed on outpatient status as specified in Section 1600, and (ii) upon the filing of a certificate of restoration to competence, the defendant be returned in accordance with the provisions of Section 1372.”   If, after competence is restored, the defendant is convicted, credit against any criminal sentence must also be granted for all time spent in pretrial confinement.  (§ 1375.5.)Subdivision (b)(1) of section 1370 states that “[w]ithin 90 days of a commitment made pursuant to subdivision (a), the medical director of the state hospital or other treatment facility to which the defendant is confined shall make a written report to the court and the community program director for the county or region of commitment, or a designee, concerning the defendant's progress toward recovery of mental competence.   Where the defendant is on outpatient status, the outpatient treatment staff shall make a written report to the community program director concerning the defendant's progress toward recovery of mental competence.   Within 90 days of placement on outpatient status, the community program director shall report to the court on this matter.   If the defendant has not recovered mental competence, but the report discloses a substantial likelihood that the defendant will regain mental competence in the foreseeable future, the defendant shall remain in the state hospital or other treatment facility or on outpatient status.   Thereafter, at six-month intervals or until the defendant becomes mentally competent, where the defendant is confined in a treatment facility, the medical director of the hospital or person in charge of the facility shall report in writing to the court and the community program director or a designee regarding the defendant's progress toward recovery of mental competence.   Where the defendant is on outpatient status, after the initial 90–day report, the outpatient treatment staff shall report to the community program director on the defendant's progress toward recovery, and the community program director shall report to the court on this matter at six-month intervals.   A copy of these reports shall be provided to the prosecutor and defense counsel by the court.   If the report indicates that there is no substantial likelihood that the defendant will regain mental competence in the foreseeable future, the committing court shall order the defendant to be returned to the court for proceedings pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (c).   The court shall transmit a copy of its order to the community program director or a designee.”

1.   Unless otherwise indicated, all further statutory references are to the Penal Code.

2.   The limitations in section 1370, subdivision (c)(1), apply unless the director of the treatment facility sooner determines that restoration to competence is unlikely (§ 1370, subd. (b)(1)).  (See People v. Waterman (1986) 42 Cal.3d 565, 568, 229 Cal.Rptr. 796, 724 P.2d 482;  Conservatorship of Hofferber (1980) 28 Cal.3d 161, 167–170, 167 Cal.Rptr. 854, 616 P.2d 836.)

NEWSOM, Associate Justice.

DOSSEE, J., concurs.

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