In Camacho v. Superior Court, the Supreme Court yesterday held that defendants have a federal constitutional due process right to a timely trial regarding a proposed involuntary commitment under the Sexually Violent Predator Act. However, in this case, the right wasn’t violated even though there had been what the court called “an exceedingly lengthy delay” of a “decade-plus” in holding a recommitment trial.

The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger says that “whether pretrial delay violates [due process] depends in the first instance on the reasons for the delay” and it finds “responsibility for the delay lies primarily with the defense, which either sought or agreed to the continuances that led to the delay.” The court attributed to the defendant many continuance requests made by his counsel when the defendant wasn’t in court.

The court nonetheless went out of its way to note that “[i]nvoluntary commitment entails ‘a massive curtailment of liberty’ ” and that trial courts have a “vital role . . . in safeguarding the timely trial right of alleged SVPs” by “tak[ing] due account of the individual’s interests in prompt adjudication and tak[ing] decisive steps to guard against unjustified delay.” The state, too, has obligations not to simply accede to defense continuance requests, and “bad faith on the part of the prosecution is not necessary to establish a constitutional violation,” the court held. But, although the court concluded “the People and the trial court both could have done more to move the case along,” their failings were outweighed by the defense responsibility for the delays.

The court left undecided what would be the appropriate remedy for a speedy trial violation in the SVP context, whether it would be dismissal of the commitment petition or some lesser sanction.

The court affirmed the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s unpublished opinion. It also disapproved the Second District, Division Two, opinion in People v. Tran (2021) 62 Cal.App.5th 330, review denied; the First District, Division One, opinion in In re Butler (2020) 55 Cal.App.5th 614, depublication requests denied; the Third District opinion in People v. Bradley (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 32, review denied; the Second District, Division One, opinion in People v. DeCasas (2020) 54 Cal.App.5th 785; and the Second District, Division Seven, opinion in People v. Superior Court (Vasquez) (2018) 27 Cal.App.5th 36, review and depublication request denied with two recorded votes to hear the case. The disapprovals were “to the extent [the cases] apply a presumption of prejudice when evaluating a claimed violation of the due process right to a timely SVP trial.”