Supreme Court of California Justia
Docket No. S273391
Camacho v. Superior Court

Real Party in Interest.
Fifth Appellate District
Merced County Superior Court
August 31, 2023
Justice Kruger authored the opinion of the Court, in which
Chief Justice Guerrero and Justices Corrigan, Liu, Groban,
Jenkins, and Evans concurred.

Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
The Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVP Act; Welf. & Inst.
Code, § 6600 et seq.) authorizes the involuntary commitment of
certain convicted sex offenders — termed “sexually violent
predators,” or SVPs — who are found to have mental disorders
that make them likely to reoffend after release from prison. This
case concerns delays in holding trial on a petition for SVP
Petitioner Ciro Camacho was first determined to be an
SVP at a 2005 trial and was committed to the state hospital for
a two-year term under the version of the statute then in force.
The next year, the statute was amended to provide for indefinite
commitment instead of renewable two-year terms. In 2007,
before Camacho’s two-year term ended, the state filed a
recommitment petition seeking indefinite commitment under
the new version of the statute. Since then, the defense has
repeatedly requested or agreed to continuances of the trial date,
with the result that the trial on the recommitment petition has
yet to occur. Camacho now argues that the extended pretrial
delay violates his constitutional rights.
Although the Courts of Appeal have previously addressed
similar claims, this case marks the first time this court has
considered the constitutional framework for evaluating the
timeliness of SVP trials. We now hold that persons facing SVP
commitment have a due process right to a timely trial. But as
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
is true in other contexts, whether pretrial delay violates that
right depends in the first instance on the reasons for the delay.
(Barker v. Wingo (1972) 407 U.S. 514, 531.) Here, while the
decade-plus delay in holding Camacho’s recommitment trial is
extraordinarily lengthy, the available record shows that
responsibility for the delay lies primarily with the defense,
which either sought or agreed to the continuances that led to the
delay. While many of the continuance requests were made by
Camacho’s counsel when Camacho was not personally present
in court, the ordinary rule is that delays sought by counsel are
attributable to their clients (Vermont v. Brillon (2009) 556 U.S.
81, 85), and the record reveals no basis to depart from that rule
in this case. Camacho therefore has not established that the
pretrial delay in this case resulted in a violation of his due
process rights.
Although we find no due process violation in the case
before us, we underscore the vital role of trial courts in
safeguarding the timely trial right of alleged SVPs. Involuntary
commitment entails “a massive curtailment of liberty.”
(Humphrey v. Cady (1972) 405 U.S. 504, 509.) In the context of
SVP proceedings, the deprivation of liberty begins when a court
finds probable cause to hold an alleged SVP in state custody
pending trial. In making determinations that will affect when
trial is held, the trial court must take due account of the
individual’s interests in prompt adjudication and take decisive
steps to guard against unjustified delay.
The Legislature first enacted the SVP Act in 1995,
expressing concerns about “a select group of criminal offenders
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
who are extremely dangerous as the result of mental
impairment, and who are likely to continue committing acts of
sexual violence even after they have been punished for such
crimes.” (Hubbart v. Superior Court (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1138,
1144 (Hubbart).) In its findings and declarations for the SVP
Act, the Legislature described its intent to “identify these
individuals prior to the expiration of their terms of
imprisonment” and, if they are “found to be likely to commit acts
of sexually violent criminal behavior beyond a reasonable
doubt,” to ensure that they “be confined and treated until such
time that it can be determined that they no longer present a
threat to society.” (Stats. 1995, ch. 763, § 1, p. 5921.
To be committed as an SVP, an individual must meet the
SVP Act’s definition of the term “ ‘[s]exually violent predator’ ”:
“[A] person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense
against one or more victims and who has a diagnosed mental
disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety
of others in that it is likely that he or she will engage in sexually
violent criminal behavior.” (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6600, subd.
(a)(1); see id., subd. (b) [defining “ ‘[s]exually violent offense’ ” to
include certain enumerated crimes “when committed by force,
violence, duress, menace, fear of immediate and unlawful bodily
injury on the victim or another person, or threatening to
retaliate in the future against the victim or any other person”].)1
The statute sets forth extensive administrative and
judicial procedures for determining whether an individual is
properly classified as an SVP. The process typically begins
The SVP Act has been amended several times since it was
first enacted in 1995. Unless otherwise indicated, statutory
references are to the version of the SVP Act currently in force.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
while the individual is still serving a prison sentence for a
sexually violent offense. At least six months before the
individual’s scheduled release date, the Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation conducts an initial screening of
individuals who have committed a qualifying offense, using a
standardized screening instrument to review the individual’s
“social, criminal, and institutional history.” (Welf. & Inst. Code,
§ 6601, subd. (b).) If the initial screening indicates that the
person is likely to be an SVP, the individual is referred to the
California Department of State Hospitals (Department) for a
full evaluation. (Id., subds. (a)(1), (2), (b).) The Department
designates two mental health evaluators, who must be
practicing psychiatrists or psychologists and must use the
Department’s standardized assessment protocol. (Id., subds. (c),
(d).) If both mental health evaluators agree the person meets
the statutory definition of an SVP, then the Director of State
Hospitals asks the state to file a petition for commitment. (Id.,
subd. (d).) If the evaluators reach different conclusions, then
two new evaluations are performed by independent mental
health professionals. (Id., subd. (e).) A petition for commitment
may be filed only if the two new evaluators concur that the
person meets the criteria for commitment. (Id., subd. (f).
Once the Director of State Hospitals has forwarded the
evaluators’ reports to the appropriate district attorney, the
district attorney may file a petition for commitment. (Welf. &
Inst. Code, § 6601, subd. (h)(1).) The trial court then reviews
the petition to determine whether it “contains sufficient facts
that, if true, would constitute probable cause” that the person
meets the definition of an SVP. (Id., § 6601.5.) If the court
answers that question in the affirmative, the court then must
hold a probable cause hearing within 10 days, absent good cause
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
for extending the time period. (Id., §§ 6601.5, 6602, subd. (b).
In the meantime, the person must be detained in a secure
facility. (Id., § 6601.5.) If, after a hearing, the court finds
probable cause to believe the individual is an SVP, the person is
detained at the state hospital pending trial. (Id., § 6602.5, subd.
The statute does not specify a fixed deadline by which trial
must occur. It does, however, lay out a number of procedural
protections for the conduct of trial, including the right to a jury
and to the assistance of counsel and relevant experts. (Welf. &
Inst. Code, § 6603, subd. (a).) At trial, the state bears the
burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the person is
an SVP. (Id., § 6604.) Specifically, the state must prove four
conditions are met: “(1) the person has previously been
convicted of at least one qualifying ‘sexually violent offense’
listed in [Welfare and Institutions Code] section 6600,
subdivision (b) [citation]; (2) the person has ‘a diagnosed mental
disorder that makes the person a danger to the health and safety
of others’ [citation]; (3) the mental disorder makes it likely the
person will engage in future acts of sexually violent criminal
behavior if released from custody [citation]; and (4) those acts
will be predatory in nature.” (Walker v. Superior Court (2021
12 Cal.5th 177, 190 (Walker).) The state must prove these
conditions exist at the time of trial: A person is subject to SVP
commitment only if the person is found to have a current
diagnosed mental disorder and to pose a current risk to public
safety. (Hubbart, supra, 19 Cal.4th at p. 1162.
If the individual is found at trial to be an SVP, the court
then issues an order of commitment. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6604;
id., § 6604.1, subd. (a).) As initially enacted, the SVP Act
provided for renewable two-year commitment terms. (People v.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
McKee (2010) 47 Cal.4th 1172, 1183 (McKee), citing former Welf.
& Inst. Code, § 6604.) In 2006, however, voters passed
Proposition 83 (Gen. Elec., Nov. 7, 2006), which replaced these
renewable two-year terms with an indefinite commitment from
which the individual can be released if it is shown that the
individual no longer qualifies as an SVP. (See McKee, at p. 1184;
see also Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6604.1, subd. (a).) Under this
system, a person who is committed as an SVP must be
reexamined annually by a qualified mental health professional
to determine whether commitment is still appropriate. (Welf. &
Inst. Code, § 6604.9, subds. (a), (b), added by Stats. 2013, ch.
182, § 1, p. 2256.) Depending on the results of the evaluation,
the report may recommend unconditional discharge, conditional
release with outpatient supervision and treatment in the
community, or continued commitment at the state hospital. The
person then may file a petition for release and, depending on the
circumstances, may be entitled to a hearing at which the person
has a right to appointed counsel and experts. (Welf. & Inst.
Code, § 6605, subd. (a)(3); id., § 6608, subds. (a), (g).
If the annual report concludes the person is no longer an
SVP, the Director of State Hospitals must authorize the
committed person to petition for unconditional discharge. (Welf.
& Inst. Code, § 6604.9, subd. (d).) After making an initial
probable cause determination on the petition, the court holds a
hearing — or, at the individual’s request, a jury trial — at which
the state bears the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt
that the individual continues to meet the criteria for
commitment as an SVP. (Id., § 6605, subd. (a)(2), (3).
A person may petition for conditional release whether or
not the annual report recommends that course (Welf. & Inst.
Code, § 6608, subd. (a)), but the recommendation determines
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
how the petition will be handled. If the annual report
recommends conditional release, then the state must show by a
preponderance of the evidence at a release hearing that the
individual is not, in fact, suitable for release. (Id., § 6604.9,
subd. (d); see id., § 6608, subd. (k).) If, on the other hand, the
annual report recommends continued commitment, the court
screens the petition for frivolousness before holding a hearing
(id., § 6608, subd. (a)), and at that hearing the individual bears
the burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that
conditional release is appropriate. (Id., subd. (k).) After one
year on conditional release, the individual may petition for
unconditional discharge from SVP commitment. (Id., subd. (m).
In 1993, Ciro Camacho pleaded guilty to one count of
continuous sexual abuse of a child in violation of Penal Code
section 288.5 and two counts of lewd acts on a child under 14
years old in violation of Penal Code section 288, subdivision (a).
He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
In August 2002, while Camacho was still serving his
sentence, the state filed a petition to commit him as an SVP.
Two doctors had evaluated Camacho and concluded he met the
statutory criteria for SVP commitment. Camacho waived his
right to a jury trial, and the trial court held a bench trial in
January 2005. The court ordered Camacho committed to the
state hospital for a two-year term under the version of the SVP
Act then in effect.
The following year, Proposition 83 replaced the system of
renewable two-year terms with the current system of indefinite
commitments subject to annual reevaluations. (See McKee,
supra, 47 Cal.4th at pp. 1183–1184.) On December 18, 2006,
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
before Camacho’s two-year term expired, the state filed a
petition to recommit Camacho to an indefinite term. On
February 8, 2007, Camacho waived the probable cause hearing
on the recommitment petition. The trial on that petition has yet
to occur. Camacho now challenges that delay as violating his
due process right to a timely trial.
In the years since 2007, Camacho’s case has appeared on
the trial court docket and been continued more than 200 times
without trial. Although the record of the proceedings is limited,
the parties have stipulated to the relevant procedural history
and the accuracy of the available record. Because Camacho’s
due process claim requires careful review of the relevant facts,
we discuss this history in some detail below.
After waiving the probable cause hearing on the 2006
petition for recommitment, Camacho entered a general time
waiver on March 29, 2007, when he was personally present in
court. He was then transported from the county jail to the state
On July 25, 2008, the Public Defender declared a conflict.
The court assigned Attorney William Davis as replacement
defense counsel. Davis would serve as Camacho’s defense
counsel for the next decade, until 2018.
Two updated doctors’ reports became available in August
2008, both concluding that Camacho met the criteria for
commitment. The court held 16 additional hearings in 2008, but
the court did not set a trial date.
In 2009, Camacho’s case appeared on the court docket 16
times. Camacho was present for 10 of these hearings. That
year, two trial dates were set and later continued, with no record
of the reason for these continuances. Camacho appeared in
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
court for another trial setting conference on March 11, 2010. No
trial date was set.
Between March 11, 2010, and July 5, 2018, Camacho’s
case appeared on the trial court docket 102 times. Camacho was
not personally present at any of the hearings held during that
eight-year period.
In 2010, doctors again concluded that Camacho met the
criteria for commitment as an SVP. The court did not set any
additional trial dates in 2010. The minute orders from 2010
generally state “time waived.”
In 2011, the court held 15 hearings. On April 14, 2011,
the court noted that Davis was “still [a]waiting confirmation of
experts” and a general time waiver was in effect. No trial date
was set in 2011. From 2012 to 2015, the court regularly called
Camacho’s case and set hearings, but the record shows no
reason for the repeated continuances.
In 2015, four new doctors’ reports were prepared. One of
these reports concluded — for the first time — that Camacho no
longer met the criteria for commitment. The other three reports,
by contrast, concluded that Camacho continued to meet the SVP
Despite this development, 2016 continued in much the
same vein as the preceding five years. The court held eight
hearings that year without setting a trial date.
In 2017, Camacho’s case appeared on the court docket 10
times, again with no trial date set and multiple continuances
granted at Davis’s request. On March 22, 2018, the court called
the case for a regular hearing. According to the reporter’s
transcript (one of the few available in this case), Davis informed
the court Camacho was “at the hospital at Coalinga by his own
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
choice.” The District Attorney and Davis told the court they
were mutually requesting a continuance, with Davis explaining
“[t]here have been some statewide developments in these kinds
of cases that [the prosecutor] and I have looked at.”
The court held an in camera hearing on May 17, 2018.
Davis waived Camacho’s presence for that hearing and the court
continued the case to June 21 to allow counsel to secure
Camacho’s appearance by video conference. Camacho did not
appear on June 21, however, and Davis waived his presence “for
today’s hearing.”
On July 5, 2018, the court held another in camera hearing.
This time, Camacho was present by video. The prosecutor did
not appear. At the hearing, Davis told Camacho that he had
“placed calls” to three “psychologists or psychiatrists . . . well
qualified to assist us in this case.” Camacho responded, “All
right.” Camacho then asked if he should send Davis letters that
staff members at the hospital wanted to write “in [his] behalf.”
Davis said to “[g]o ahead” and asked if Camacho had his
address. Camacho confirmed he did. The court then concluded,
“All right. I’ll find good cause to continue this to the 16th?” And
Davis confirmed, “Yes.”
On September 20, 2018, the court held another hearing.
Camacho was not present. Davis made “an oral motion to
continue the matter” and the prosecutor objected — the first
recorded objection to a continuance in the history of the case.
The court overruled the objection and scheduled a trial setting
conference in October.
The parties met again on October 4, 2018, with Camacho
present by video conference. The parties discussed setting a
trial date. Davis noted that Camacho “need[ed] to have
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
additional evaluations” because the last doctors’ reports were
from 2015. Davis suggested March 5 for a jury trial. The
prosecutor noted he had another trial on that date, but stated
he was “available several weeks before that. And we are looking
forward to moving this case forward to conclusion.” Davis then
suggested April for trial, and the prosecutor stated, “just for the
record, I can do this significantly earlier,” and “I’m not trying to
delay the trial.” Davis said he understood but that because of
his preparation, April was best. The court set a trial date for
April 2 and ordered monthly pretrial hearings.
After the date was set, the prosecutor said that since
Camacho was present, he wanted to “clear up a few things.” The
prosecutor continued, “First off, the [d]efendant does have a
right to a speedy trial in this matter within a reasonable time
period. [¶] . . . [¶] . . . However, my understanding is the
[d]efendant, having these rights in mind, is consenting to this
date in April because he feels it’s in his best interests.” Davis
responded that he had not “had a chance to discuss all of the
things that [he] need[ed] to discuss with [Camacho]” and asked
the court to order that Camacho be permitted to give Davis a
phone call the next week to “go over all the issues necessary.”
The court asked if Camacho had heard everything and
addressed Camacho directly as he summarized that the parties
would reconvene two weeks later, so that “Mr. Davis can talk to
you in more detail about what he’s planning to do regarding your
defense. And at that time you can decide if you want to ask for
a speedy trial or if you’re agreeable to putting it out longer,
which is what has happened so far. [¶] But so far you’re okay
with everything?” Camacho replied, “Yes.”
The court called Camacho’s case again two weeks later, on
October 18, 2018. Davis began the hearing by stating that
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
Camacho “doesn’t want to waive any more time.” Davis referred
to the Court of Appeal’s then-recent decision in People v.
Superior Court (Vasquez)
(2018) 27 Cal.App.5th 36 (Vasquez),
which upheld the trial court’s determination that a 17-year
delay in holding an SVP trial violated due process because the
delay had been caused by a “ ‘ “breakdown in the public defender
system.” ’ ” (Id. at p. 41.) The prosecutor responded he would
not object to “resetting the trial within 60 days of today.”
Camacho reiterated that he wanted “to apply this Vasquez
case.” Davis stated he was “assuming that means he wants
another attorney,” and Camacho confirmed. Davis noted,
Vasquez does create some interesting issues . . . part of the
problem is that there is a systemic logistical problem . . .
everybody that has one of these petitions pending is held at
Coalinga, which is a hundred miles from anywhere. Literally,
anywhere else in the state.”
Davis stated that “another issue” was that Camacho was
“not sure that he wants to be brought to the county jail.” The
prosecutor again suggested that they set trial within 60 days.
The court said it sounded like it was Camacho’s “desire to have
a speedy trial in the matter” and they could set trial within 60
days and “come back in two weeks for a readiness conference.”
Davis asked Camacho, “Do you want to be here in Merced
County?” Camacho responded, “No. No. [¶] . . . [¶] I want to
stay here in Coalinga. [¶] . . . [¶] . . . I mean, how long is the
trial going to be? If it’s gonna be a while, then, yeah, I’ll go to
the county [jail]. But if it’s just gonna be a ready conference,
then send me back.” Davis and Camacho ultimately agreed to
decide about transportation later and keep the April trial date.
The prosecutor then reiterated that since “the defendant is
requesting a speedy trial” he had no objection to “advancing
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
[trial] to December 11th which is within 60 days of today.” The
court set trial for December 11.
On November 6, 2018, the court held a readiness
conference that began with Davis informing the court that
Camacho wanted to “go ahead and make an oral motion . . . to
dismiss for a lack of prosecution.” The court agreed with Davis’s
recommendation to refer the motion to a different law firm,
Fitzgerald, Alvarez & Ciummo, in order “to look into
Mr. Camacho’s claims pursuant to the Vasquez case.”
On November 29, 2018, Davis declared a conflict and was
relieved by the court. Fitzgerald, Alvarez & Ciummo became
Camacho’s defense counsel for all purposes.
On March 11, 2021, Camacho filed a motion to dismiss the
2006 petition to extend commitment, claiming his right to due
process had been violated “due to the excessive delay in bringing
his matter to trial.” The trial court denied the motion to dismiss,
describing the pretrial delay as “troubling,” but finding that
“most of that [delay] is attributable to Mr. Camacho or his
counsel.” Camacho then filed an original petition for a writ of
mandate in the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal denied Camacho’s writ petition in an
unpublished opinion, finding that although “ ‘substantial delays
weigh in [Camacho]’s favor’ . . . [¶] . . . [¶] . . . the record shows
the delay was at Camacho’s request or agreement,” such that his
right to due process was not violated. The court explained that
“[u]p to October 18, 2018, Camacho waived time repeatedly and
requested or acquiesced to the numerous continuances, either in
person or through his attorney.” Although the continuance
requests were made by counsel without Camacho present, the
court cited the “ ‘general rule’ ” that “ ‘ “delays caused by defense
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
counsel are properly attributed to the defendant, even where
counsel is assigned.” ’ ” The court further opined that while the
length of Camacho’s pretrial incarceration “ ‘constitutes some
degree of prejudice,’ ” the delay had not prejudiced Camacho’s
defense, reasoning that “the passage of time improved
Camacho’s prospects: the first medical evaluation opining that
he no longer satisfied [the criteria for commitment] was
prepared” in 2015.
The issue of SVP trial delays is not new. Nearly 20 years
ago, courts began to raise concerns that significant pretrial
delays in SVP cases “can and do occur.” (Litmon v. Superior
(2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 1156, 1170 (Litmon); see Orozco v.
Superior Court
(2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 170, 179 (Orozco).) At
the time, the courts’ concern was that delays in holding trials to
recommit SVPs sometimes matched or even exceeded the two-
year commitment period prescribed by the law then in force.
(Ibid.) Since the SVP Act was amended to provide for indefinite
commitment terms, the issue of pretrial delay has not abated.
Extended delays — in some cases upwards of a decade — have
not been uncommon.2
(See, e.g., In re Kerins (2023) 89 Cal.App.5th 1084 [14-year
delay], review granted June 14, 2023, S279933; People v. Hubbs
(Jan. 19, 2023, D077636) [nonpub. opn.] 2023 WL 311941 [15-
year delay]; People v. Carter (2022) 86 Cal.App.5th 739 [14-year
delay]; People v. Lozano (Aug. 10, 2022, C094245) [nonpub. opn.]
2022 WL 3224388 [11-year delay]; People v. Ballardo (Mar. 29,
2022, B290567) [nonpub. opn.] 2022 WL 906421 [13-year delay];
Camacho v. Superior Court of Merced County (Jan. 21, 2022,
F082798) [nonpub. opn.] 2022 WL 189070 [15-year delay];
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
The reasons for delay in a given case vary, but certain
features of the SVP Act help to explain why, in general,
extended pretrial delays may be more likely to occur in SVP
cases than in other cases. As an initial matter, SVP trials,
unlike criminal trials and most types of civil trials, are not
subject to statutory time limits. (See Litmon, supra, 123
Cal.App.4th at pp. 1170–1171; cf. Pen. Code, § 1382, subd. (a)(2
[setting presumptive 60-day limit for trial in a criminal case];
Code Civ. Proc., § 583.310 [setting presumptive five-year limit
for trial in a civil case].) This is not because the Legislature has
been inattentive to questions of timing in SVP cases: In 1998, it
set a 10-day limit for holding a pretrial probable cause hearing
(Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6601.5, as added by Stats. 1998, ch. 19,
§ 2, p. 145); more recently, it set limits on granting continuances
and required that continuance requests be made in writing and
supported by good cause. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6603, subd. (c),
People v. Eden (Jan. 21, 2022, A162818) [nonpub. opn.] 2022 WL
188679 [5-year delay]; People v. Tran (2021) 62 Cal.App.5th 330
[11-year delay]; People v. Orey (2021) 63 Cal.App.5th 529 [8-year
delay]; People v. Sims (Feb. 24, 2021, C088029) [nonpub. opn.]
2021 WL 717063 [9-year delay]; People v. Taylor (Jan. 28, 2021,
B303044) [nonpub. opn.] 2021 WL 281796 [9-year delay]; People
v. Allen (Jan. 27, 2021, B288740) [nonpub. opn.] 2021 WL
268353 [15-year delay]; In re Butler (2020) 55 Cal.App.5th 614
[13-year delay]; People v. DeCasas (2020) 54 Cal.App.5th 785
[13-year delay]; People v. Bradley (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 32 [3-
year delay]; People v. Teluci (Nov. 4, 2020, A155206) [nonpub.
opn.] 2020 WL 6482396 [11-year delay]; People v. Raker (Aug.
20, 2020, B299718) [nonpub. opn.] 2020 WL 4877437 [11-year
delay]; People v. Barrcena (Aug. 3, 2020, B289917) [nonpub.
opn.] 2020 WL 4435548 [11-year delay]; People v. Burns (May
21, 2020, B296809) [nonpub. opn.] 2020 WL 2570173 [13-year
delay]; People v. Strahan (Feb. 5, 2020, B295295) [nonpub. opn.]
2020 WL 563906 [22-year delay].
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
as amended by Stats. 2019, ch. 606, § 1.) But despite various
calls to set firm limits on the scheduling of trial, the Legislature
has thus far declined to do so, instead choosing to give courts
and parties greater flexibility in matters of trial timing. (See,
e.g., Litmon, at p. 1172.
More fundamentally, SVP trials are unlike criminal trials
in that they are not aimed primarily at establishing an
individual’s liability for past events, but instead at establishing
the individual’s present need for mental health treatment.
Although an SVP proceeding may involve inquiry into certain
facts about an individual’s criminal history (see, e.g., Walker,
supra, 12 Cal.5th at p. 185), the central focus of an SVP trial is
whether the individual currently has a mental disorder that
poses a danger to the public and thus requires hospitalization
(Hubbart, supra, 19 Cal.4th at p. 1162). Once a judge has found
probable cause to believe an individual is an SVP, that
individual is held in a state hospital and begins to receive
mental health treatment — even before trial is ever held. For
this reason, both sides may have a common interest in delaying
trial. From the individual’s perspective, allowing more time for
treatment may ultimately improve the chance of success at trial,
insofar as treatment may help address a mental disorder that a
jury might otherwise find poses a risk to the public. (See, e.g.,
In re Butler, supra, 55 Cal.App.5th at p. 635 (Butler).) While
individuals committed as SVPs after trial may later petition for
release, conditions are generally more favorable at the initial
trial, where the state always bears the burden of proving beyond
a reasonable doubt that the individual qualifies as an SVP.
(Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6604; cf. id., §§ 6605, 6608 [describing
procedures for postcommitment release].) For the state’s part,
there are limited incentives to expend the resources necessary
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
to push the case toward trial when, following a finding of
probable cause, the individual is already being hospitalized and
receiving treatment.
Understanding why parties may have incentives to delay
SVP trials in general does not, of course, tell us the reasons for
delay in any particular case. Nor does the Legislature’s choice
to avoid imposing statutory time limits justify prolonged delay
or tell us whether the delay is consistent with an individual’s
constitutional rights. In recent years, the Courts of Appeal have
confronted a number of cases calling for consideration of these
questions. (See, e.g., In re Kerins, supra, 89 Cal.App.5th 1084
[14-year pretrial delay and extended absence from court did not
violate due process], review granted; People v. Tran, supra, 62
Cal.App.5th 330 [11-year delay between petition for
commitment and SVP retrial did not violate due process]; People
v. Landau
(2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 1, 9 (Landau) [seven-year
delay did not violate due process].) In three cases, courts found
that extended delays violated the due process rights of alleged
In the first of these cases, Vasquez, supra, 27 Cal.App.5th
36, the Court of Appeal reviewed the record of the 17-year delay
in that case and affirmed the superior court’s finding that delays
sought by defense counsel could not be attributed to Vasquez
himself, but instead resulted from an institutional breakdown
related to budget cuts and understaffing in the public defender’s
office that handled his case. (Id. at pp. 54, 66, citing Vermont v.
, supra, 556 U.S. at p. 94 (Brillon).) Concluding the delay
violated Vasquez’s due process right to a timely SVP trial, the
court dismissed the petition for commitment.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
Two years later, the appellate court in People v. DeCasas,
supra, 54 Cal.App.5th 785 (DeCasas) confronted a 13-year delay
caused by “the same reduction of the SVP unit staff” at the same
public defender’s office as in Vasquez. (DeCasas, at p. 809.
Following the logic of Vasquez, the court found a due process
violation and dismissed the petition for commitment. (Id. at
p. 813.
Finally, the court in Butler, supra, 55 Cal.App.5th 614
dismissed a petition for commitment after finding a due process
violation based on pretrial delay. Though there were “several
. . .
mismanagement of this case went beyond any particular
attorney’s performance,” the court found that even if those
circumstances did not constitute systemic breakdown in the
public defender’s office, it would be “fundamentally unfair to
hold Butler personally and solely accountable for delays caused
by his counsel” where the record showed that counsel refused to
convey Butler’s explicit demands for trial, failed to demand a
probable cause hearing or consult with a defense expert, and did
not ever “come close to being ready for trial.” (Id. at p. 658.
In response to Vasquez and cases that followed, the
Legislature amended the SVP Act to prescribe more demanding
requirements for seeking and granting trial continuances. The
statute now requires that motions for trial continuances be in
writing, supported by good cause, and resolved in a timely
manner. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6603, subd. (c), as amended by
Stats. 2019, ch. 606, § 1.) While these amendments provide
procedural safeguards against unwarranted delays, they do not
address whether or when an SVP commitment trial may become
untimely as a result of previously granted continuances.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
We turn, then, to the question before us, which concerns
the constitutional principles governing the timeliness of SVP
trials. The due process clauses of both the federal and state
Constitutions forbid the state from depriving individuals of their
liberty without due process of law. (U.S. Const., Amend. XIV,
§ 1; Cal. Const., art. I, § 7, subd. (a).)3 Civil commitment under
the SVP Act undoubtedly involves “a significant deprivation of
liberty.” (People v. Otto (2001) 26 Cal.4th 200, 209; see Kansas
v. Hendricks
(1997) 521 U.S. 346, 356–357.) “The fundamental
requirement of due process is the opportunity to be heard ‘at a
meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.’ ” (Mathews v.
(1976) 424 U.S. 319, 333 (Mathews).) Thus, as every
Court of Appeal to address the issue has agreed, individuals
facing commitment under the SVP Act have a due process right
to a timely trial. (See, e.g., Orozco, supra, 117 Cal.App.4th at
pp. 179–180; People v. Litmon (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 383, 395–
399 (Litmon II); Landau, supra, 214 Cal.App.4th at p. 27;
Butler, supra, 55 Cal.App.5th at p. 637.
Although the appellate courts have agreed on this
threshold point, they have expressed uncertainty about the
appropriate framework for evaluating claims of excessive
pretrial delay under the due process clause. (See, e.g., Litmon
Although Camacho brings a claim under both the federal
and state Constitutions, he focuses exclusively on federal
authorities. While we reaffirm that we have the “power and
authority to construe the state Constitution independently”
(Hubbart, supra, 19 Cal.4th at p. 1152, fn. 19), Camacho has
offered no arguments specific to the California Constitution.
Our analysis, like the parties’, therefore centers on the federal
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
II, supra, 162 Cal.App.4th at p. 399 [noting the United States
Supreme Court has not addressed the issue].) In the absence of
more specific guidance, the Courts of Appeal have uniformly
borrowed the Barker framework used to adjudicate claims of
speedy trial violations in criminal cases. (Barker v. Wingo,
, 407 U.S. 514 (Barker); People v. Williams (2013) 58
Cal.4th 197 (Williams).) But several courts, including the Court
of Appeal in this case, have also applied the Mathews general
balancing test used to evaluate the adequacy of governmental
process under the federal due process clause. (Mathews, supra,
424 U.S. 319.) We now clarify that this general balancing under
Mathews is unnecessary; it suffices to consider the factors laid
out in Barker in deciding whether an alleged SVP has been
deprived of the constitutional right to a timely trial.
In Barker, the United States Supreme Court considered
the scope of the right to a speedy criminal trial secured by the
Sixth Amendment to the federal Constitution. The speedy trial
right, the court observed, is a “slippery” one, “generically
different from any of the other rights enshrined in the
Constitution for the protection of the accused.” (Barker, supra,
407 U.S. at pp. 522, 519.) For one thing, the accused may not
actually want a speedy trial and may perceive a tactical
advantage in delay; in particular, the accused may believe that
the passage of time will hurt the prosecution’s ability to prove
guilt more than it hurts the accused’s ability to defend. (Id. at
pp. 519–521.) In this respect, the interests of the accused may
not align with broader societal interests in the prompt
resolution of criminal charges. (Id. at p. 519; see id. at pp. 519–
521.) And “perhaps most importantly,” the court explained, “the
right to speedy trial is a more vague concept than other
procedural rights.” (Id. at p. 521.) “We cannot definitely say
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
how long is too long in a system where justice is supposed to be
swift but deliberate. As a consequence, there is no fixed point
in the criminal process when the State can put the defendant to
the choice of either exercising or waiving the right to a speedy
trial. . . . [A]ny inquiry into a speedy trial claim necessitates a
functional analysis of the right in the particular context of the
case.” (Id. at pp. 521–522, fn. omitted.
In keeping with these observations about the slippery
nature of the speedy trial right, the Barker court declined to
adopt any bright-line rules for determining when the right has
been violated. The court instead identified four factors for
courts to examine: the length of the pretrial delay, the reason
for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and
prejudice to the defendant caused by the delay. (Barker, supra,
407 U.S. at p. 530.) The defendant carries the “burden of
demonstrating a speedy trial violation under Barker’s
multifactor test.” (Williams, supra, 58 Cal.4th at p. 233.
Because none of these factors is dispositive, “courts must still
engage in a difficult and sensitive balancing process” to
determine whether trial has been unconstitutionally delayed.
(Barker, at p. 533.
Although Barker concerned the constitutional right to a
speedy trial in a criminal case, courts have employed Barker’s
unconstitutional delay in other contexts. (See, e.g., United
States v. $8,850
(1983) 461 U.S. 555, 564 [applying Barker test
to evaluate pretrial delay in civil forfeiture case]; DeLancy v.
(10th Cir. 1984) 741 F.2d 1246, 1247–1248 (per
curiam) [applying Barker factors to review delay in furnishing
trial transcript to be used by incarcerated criminal defendant on
appeal]; see also U.S. v. Sanders (6th Cir. 2006) 452 F.3d 572,
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
577 [holding that Barker applies to due process claims based on
postsentencing delays, and citing similar cases from other
circuits]; cf. Betterman v. Montana (2016) 578 U.S. 437, 448, fn.
12 (Betterman) [reserving the question of how the due process
clause applies to claims based on postsentencing delays, but
noting that “[r]elevant considerations may include the length of
and reasons for delay, the defendant’s diligence in requesting
expeditious sentencing, and prejudice”].
The Barker factors are likewise appropriate for use in
evaluating due process claims based on delays in holding SVP
trials. The timing of SVP trials is not in all respects comparable
to the timing of criminal trials, but many of the same general
principles translate. Once a court has found probable cause to
support an SVP commitment petition, an individual is
committed to a state hospital for treatment while awaiting trial.
But as is true in criminal cases, an individual’s interests in a
timely trial do not run in just one direction; one individual facing
SVP commitment may wish for a prompt trial, while another
may perceive a tactical advantage in delay. (See Barker, supra,
407 U.S. at pp. 519–521.) And, more fundamentally, as is true
in criminal cases, it is impossible to define with any precision a
fixed point at which trial must occur — “how long is too long in
a system where justice is supposed to be swift but deliberate.”
(Id. at p. 521.) The Barker test outlines a broadly relevant set
of functional, case-dependent factors to consider in analyzing
questions of trial timing. To the extent the SVP context differs
from the criminal context in which Barker was decided, the
flexibility of the test allows courts to account for those
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
Indeed, every Court of Appeal to address the issue to date
has done so by employing the Barker factors.4 But in an
abundance of caution, some have also employed the Mathews
test to evaluate claims of SVP trial delay.
The issue in Mathews was whether due process required
an evidentiary hearing before the termination of Social Security
disability payments. (Mathews, supra, 424 U.S. at p. 323.) The
United States Supreme Court set out a three-factor framework
to decide the question: (1) “the private interest that will be
affected by the official action”; (2) “the risk of an erroneous
deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and
the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural
safeguards”; and (3) “the Government’s interest, including the
function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens
that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would
entail.” (Id. at p. 335.) With its focus on evaluating the value of
additional procedural safeguards for the sake of reducing error,
this test is more clearly suited to questions about the adequacy
So have other state high courts. (See Matter of Ellison
(2016) 305 Kan. 519, 531–532, 535 [adopting Barker test to
evaluate delay of 1,705 days between probable cause hearing
and trial under Kansas’s SVP Act]; Morel v. Wilkins (Fla. 2012
84 So.3d 226, 246 [applying Barker to evaluate 10-year pretrial
delay under Florida’s SVP Act]; cf. In re Commitment of Beyer
(2006) 287 Wis.2d 1, 25–31 [implicitly adopting Barker in
evaluating due process violation for 22-month delay between
filing of annual examination and probable cause hearing]; Com.
v. Blake (2009) 454 Mass. 267, 279–280 (conc. opn. of Ireland, J.
[discussing relevance of Barker to evaluation of 13-month delay
between bench trial for adjudication of sexual dangerousness
and issuance of decision].
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
of procedures used in government decisionmaking than to
questions about the timing of those decisions.
To be sure, the United States Supreme Court has invoked
Mathews in evaluating certain timing-related claims. In FDIC
v. Mallen
(1988) 486 U.S. 230, 231–232, 242, for instance, the
high court employed a modified version of the Mathews test in
considering, and rejecting, a claim that a statute allowing the
government to suspend indicted bank officials facially violated
due process because the statute did not guarantee that
suspended officials would receive sufficiently prompt decisions
on their appeals. (See Litmon II, supra, 162 Cal.App.4th at
pp. 396–397 [discussing Mallen].
But the trial timing question here bears far greater
resemblance to the trial timing question in Barker than to the
question in Mallen about the adequacy of postsuspension review
procedures. And it serves no meaningful purpose to analyze
pretrial delays under both Mathews and Barker, as some Courts
of Appeal have done. None of these courts has ever found that
the Mathews inquiry yields a different result from Barker. This
is unsurprising, since the questions the courts have asked under
Mathews — adapting the three-part test for the context of a
challenge to trial timing — are all matters already addressed,
with somewhat greater specificity, by the Barker factors. We
thus clarify that courts need not apply Mathews in this context;
it suffices to apply the Barker factors in considering whether
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
pretrial delay in an SVP case has resulted in a denial of due
It is a separate question whether Barker dictates the
remedy when a violation is found. In the criminal context,
Barker instructs that the sole remedy for a Sixth Amendment
speedy trial violation is dismissal of the prosecution — an
“unsatisfactorily severe remedy,” but, in the high court’s view,
the “only possible” one. (Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at p. 522;
accord, Williams, supra, 58 Cal.4th at p. 233.) The Courts of
Appeal have generally assumed the same must be true in
evaluating claims of due process violations in the SVP context.
(Vasquez, supra, 27 Cal.App.5th at pp. 82–83 [holding that
dismissal is the only possible remedy for a timely trial violation
and affirming the trial court’s order of dismissal]; DeCasas,
supra, 54 Cal.App.5th at p. 813 [same]; see also Butler, supra,
55 Cal.App.5th at pp. 637, 664 [affirming order of dismissal
without discussing the question of appropriate remedies].
Other courts have, however, suggested that there may be
other possible remedies for unreasonable delays in this context.
(U.S. v. Timms (4th Cir. 2012) 664 F.3d 436, 455, fn. 19 [“[E]ven
if Timms’ case constituted a due process violation, the proper
remedy would not be release, but to conduct the hearing and
adjudicate whether he is a ‘sexually dangerous person’ under
the statute.”]; see Orozco, supra, 117 Cal.App.4th at p. 179
[finding no due process violation, but noting that when trial had
not occurred within a reasonable time after the probable cause
hearing, the remedy was to order that trial be held “forthwith”];
cf. Betterman, supra, 578 U.S. at pp. 445, 444 [discussing
remedy for unconstitutional postconviction delay in sentencing
and noting that “a dismissal remedy ordinarily would not be in
order” and would provide “an unjustified windfall” to the
defendant].) The parties before us have not addressed the
question of possible alternative remedies in this case and we
have no occasion to decide it.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
With this background in mind, we turn to Camacho’s due
process claim. The Court of Appeal in this case reviewed the
trial court’s denial of relief for abuse of discretion. Under that
standard, “[t]he trial court’s findings of fact are reviewed for
substantial evidence, its conclusions of law are reviewed de
novo, and its application of the law to the facts is reversible only
if arbitrary and capricious.” (Haraguchi v. Superior Court
(2008) 43 Cal.4th 706, 711–712, fns. omitted.) Neither party
here contends we should employ a different standard of review.
Ultimately, however, the standard of review is not dispositive,
because Camacho fails to establish a due process violation under
any possible standard.
We begin with the first Barker factor, the length of the
pretrial delay. This factor operates as a threshold hurdle;
“[u]ntil there is some delay which is presumptively prejudicial,
there is no necessity for inquiry into the other factors that go
into the balance.” (Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at p. 530.) “If the
accused makes this showing, the court must then consider . . .
the extent to which the delay stretches beyond the bare
minimum needed to trigger judicial examination of the claim.”
(Doggett v. United States (1992) 505 U.S. 647, 652 (Doggett).
Here, Camacho awaits trial on a petition for
recommitment that was filed in 2006. Although this delay is not
entirely out of line with delays seen in other SVP cases, it is an
exceedingly lengthy delay all the same. The Attorney General
contends that our inquiry should focus more narrowly on the
eight-year period from 2010 to 2018, when Camacho did not
personally appear in court. The Attorney General notes that
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
Camacho “makes no real effort to establish that he was denied
his speedy trial right between 2006 and 2010,” when Camacho
frequently appeared personally in court and had entered a
general time waiver. The Attorney General concedes, however,
that an eight-year delay is “significant” in its own right, and so
“the length of the delay weighs in Camacho’s favor.” We agree;
the first Barker factor unquestionably supports Camacho’s
claim of a constitutional timely trial violation.
We next turn to the second Barker factor, the reasons for
the delay. This is the “flag all litigants seek to capture” (United
States v. Loud Hawk
(1986) 474 U.S. 302, 315) because the
permissibility of pretrial delay depends to a great extent on who
bears responsibility for it and why.
In analyzing the second factor, courts examine “whether the
government or the criminal defendant is more to blame for th[e]
delay.” (Doggett, supra, 505 U.S. at p. 651; Barker, supra, 407
U.S. at p. 530.) Courts also examine why the delay occurred, for
“different weights should be assigned to different reasons.”
(Barker, at p. 531.) If the government deliberately delays trial
to hamper the defense, for instance, that effort at manipulation
“should be weighted heavily against the government.” (Ibid.) “A
more neutral reason such as negligence or overcrowded courts
should be weighted less heavily but nevertheless should be
considered since the ultimate responsibility for such
circumstances must rest with the government rather than with
the defendant. Finally, a valid reason, such as a missing
witness, should serve to justify appropriate delay.” (Ibid.) By
contrast, “if delay is attributable to the defendant, then his
waiver [of his right to a speedy trial] may be given effect under
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
standard waiver doctrine.” (Id. at p. 529; accord, Brillon, supra,
556 U.S. at p. 90.
Our analysis of the reasons for delay in this case is
hampered to some extent by the limited record before us. We
emphasize that trial courts have a responsibility to maintain an
adequate record for review. The parties have, however,
stipulated to an undisputed record that forms a sufficient basis
for our opinion today. In the majority of the hearings at which
delays were sought and granted, the record does not identify the
party that requested the continuance. But in every instance
where the available record identifies the party moving for a
continuance, the record shows that it was defense counsel —
either alone, or jointly with the People. The record also does not
show a single instance of the defense objecting to a continuance.
In other words, as far as the record shows, virtually all the
delays in this case were either sought by the defense or agreed
to by the defense, and no continuances were requested solely by
the People. Camacho does not contend otherwise. Against that
backdrop, we assess the conduct of the defense, the prosecution,
and the trial court in turn.
It is undisputed that Camacho — either personally or
through counsel — either sought or agreed to most of the delay
in this case. The central point of dispute between the parties is
whether we should distinguish between those delays Camacho
personally agreed to and those to which his counsel assented on
his behalf, particularly during the eight-year period when
Camacho did not personally appear in court.
In general, delays sought by the defendant’s counsel weigh
against the defendant’s claim of a speedy trial violation.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
(Brillon, supra, 556 U.S. at pp. 90–91.) This rule flows from the
ordinary principle that an “ ‘attorney is the [defendant’s] agent
when acting, or failing to act, in furtherance of the litigation,’ ”
such that the client must assume the consequences of the
attorney’s delay. (Ibid., quoting Coleman v. Thompson (1991
501 U.S. 722, 753 (Coleman).
Applying this principle in Brillon, supra, 556 U.S. 81, the
United States Supreme Court reversed a state court’s decision
that pretrial delay should be charged against the state when the
blame for the delay lay with court-appointed counsel for an
indigent criminal defendant. (Id. at p. 92.) The high court
explained that “assigned counsel generally are not state actors
for purposes of a speedy-trial claim. . . . [¶] . . . Their ‘inability
or unwillingness . . . to move the case forward,’ [citation], may
not be attributed to the State simply because they are assigned
counsel.” (Id. at pp. 92–93, fn. omitted.) The court noted that
the analysis might be different if, as Brillon had argued, the
delay was shown to result from “a systemic ‘breakdown in the
public defender system.’ ” (Id. at p. 94.) But, the court observed,
the Vermont Supreme Court had “made no determination, and
nothing in the record suggest[ed], that institutional problems
caused any part of the delay in Brillon’s case.” (Ibid.
In Camacho’s case, the Court of Appeal concluded that
“the record contains substantial evidence that the delay was ‘the
result of defense counsel’s agreement or . . . explicit request.’ ”
The court cited Brillon’s holding that delays caused by defense
counsel are ordinarily charged to the defendant. The court
acknowledged the high court’s suggestion that delay caused by
appointed counsel could be charged to the state if there was a
systemic breakdown in the public defender system, citing
Vasquez, supra, 27 Cal.App.5th 36 and DeCasas, supra, 54
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
Cal.App.5th 785. But the court noted that in Camacho’s case
“the record does not support such a finding.”
Camacho argues the Court of Appeal mistakenly
construed Brillon to mean that delay caused by defense counsel
may be charged against the state only when there is a systemic
breakdown of the public defender system and under no other
circumstances. It is unclear whether the appellate court so held
or was simply responding to what it understood as Camacho’s
argument that there had been an “institutional breakdown.” In
any event, like Camacho, we do not read Brillon as standing for
any such broad proposition; Brillon addressed a hypothetical
systemic breakdown of the public defender system because that
was the argument presented in the case. The Attorney General,
for his part, acknowledges that a constitutional problem might
arise if Camacho had shown “that, during the eight years at
issue, his absence from the courtroom had been unknowing or
involuntary, or if Camacho had demonstrated that his attorney
had waived time against Camacho’s wishes.” In those
circumstances, “the People would likely agree that Camacho
suffered a due process violation.” (Cf. Butler, supra, 55
Cal.App.5th at p. 658 [finding due process violation where
alleged SVP explicitly demanded trial and defense counsel failed
to convey those demands to the court or make progress towards
trial].) We, too, agree that Brillon does not prevent a court from
taking such matters into account.
Still, Camacho provides no sufficient reason for us to
depart from the ordinary rule that delays sought by counsel are
attributed to their client. (Brillon, supra, 556 U.S. at p. 90.
Camacho does not allege that his eight-year absence from court
was involuntary. Nor does he allege that his attorney waived
time against his express wishes. His argument is, instead, that
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
delays sought by defense counsel during a period when he did
not personally appear in court should not count against him,
solely by virtue of his absence. We reject this broad argument.
(See People v. Blacksher (2011) 52 Cal.4th 769, 799 [finding the
defendant’s absence from 17 pretrial proceedings did not violate
constitutional right to be present and noting that most of the
proceedings “concerned routine legal and procedural matters”].
There is no reason why, standing alone, absence from
court would relieve an individual of responsibility for delays
sought by counsel who was acting as the individual’s agent.
(Coleman, supra, 501 U.S. at p. 753.) Of course, an individual’s
extended absence from court may raise concerns about whether
the individual’s wishes about timing have been adequately
considered; when an individual is absent from court, it becomes
more difficult to evaluate whether the individual has been
adequately informed about and agrees with counsel’s proposed
approach to trial timing. Here, however, the record contains no
indication that Camacho was inadequately informed of — much
less disagreed with — counsel’s approach to trial timing during
his eight-year absence from court.
Although Davis at one point referenced Camacho’s remote
location as an obstacle to trial preparation, there is nothing in
the record to indicate Davis and Camacho faced substantial
obstacles in communicating in general.6 The continuances and
The transcript of the hearing from October 18, 2018
reflects one relevant exchange between Camacho and Davis.
Davis stated, “The Vasquez case has raised some issues that are
certainly parallel to Mr. Camacho’s situation.” The prosecutor
responded that he would not object to “resetting the trial within
60 days of today.” Davis reminded the judge that Camacho did
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
time waivers during the period when Camacho was absent from
court were consistent with continuances and waivers that had
been entered before 2010, when Camacho did regularly appear
in court. And Camacho’s first reappearance in court after eight
years was uneventful. On that date, Camacho did not assert his
timely trial rights, complain about his absence from court, or
otherwise express dissatisfaction with the progress of his case.
He also confirmed that he had Davis’s mailing address, which,
if nothing else, suggests he had an available method of
communicating with Davis about any concerns he may have
In sum, we agree with Camacho that an extended absence
from court could raise concerns about an SVP’s opportunity to
complain about attorney-sought delay, but we conclude that
absence alone does not provide a sufficient basis to depart from
the ordinary rule that delays sought by attorneys are properly
attributed to the clients they represent. On the available record,
Camacho bears most of the responsibility for the delay he now
not have any updated evaluations, and Camacho added, “[a]nd
this is why I wanted to not waive any more time because they
have never come to see me at any time after nine years. [¶] . . .
[¶] I’ve been waiting and waiting for, you know, for somebody
to come and talk to me about anything. [¶] And I was looking
at this Vasquez case, and it kind of like — it does apply to
myself. [¶] Seventeen years of not having a representative to
get me ready for trial.”
We note, however, that Camacho does not assert here that
he was unable to speak with Davis or an expert for nine years,
or that he was unrepresented for 17 years. Both claims are,
moreover, unsupported by the record the parties stipulated to
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
While the People were not primarily responsible for the
delay in the case, the record also shows the People made little
effort to move the case toward trial. The Attorney General
acknowledges as much, explaining that “[a]t least until the
September 2018 decision in Vasquez, the People were amenable
in many cases — including Camacho’s — to the defendant’s
desire to delay trial for the purpose of progressing in treatment.
If, before the case went to trial, the individual progressed in
treatment to the point where he was no longer a danger to public
safety, the People could simply dismiss the case.”
Although this policy of acquiescence is perhaps
understandable, it also carries important risks and drawbacks.
For one thing, it invites reliance on the assumption that when
the defense repeatedly requests continuances, it is because the
alleged SVP has decided to indefinitely delay trial for the
purpose of progressing in treatment. Though this may be true
of some alleged SVPs, it may not be true of other individuals,
and individual preferences may change over time. (See, e.g.,
Butler, supra, 55 Cal.App.5th at pp. 635, 636 [noting alleged
SVP “made sincere and repeated demands for a speedy trial . . .
throughout his 12-year period of detention awaiting trial” and
his “public defenders essentially ignored and disregarded his
demands for a timely trial” by never communicating those
demands in court].) For another, permitting the alleged SVP to
indefinitely delay trial discounts the broader societal interest in
timely, definitive decisions about whether individuals satisfy
the criteria for involuntary commitment — where commitment
necessarily comes at taxpayer expense and carries personal
costs for families and communities from whom the individual
will remain indefinitely separated.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
Because alleged SVPs have no duty to bring themselves to
trial, the government has a responsibility to ensure the case is
moving forward in a manner that is consistent with due process.
When faced with unwarranted delays or repeated continuances,
“diligent prosecution of an SVP petition may necessitate
objecting to the delays, insisting upon trial deadlines, and
making the trial court aware of the length of time since the filing
of the SVP petition or other pertinent details from the record.”
(Butler, supra, 55 Cal.App.5th at p. 655.
In this case, the Court of Appeal observed that “[n]othing
in the record suggests that the prosecution engaged in
deliberate delay tactics or acted in bad faith.” We agree with
the court’s conclusion in this regard, and Camacho does not
dispute that reading of the record. He argues, however, that the
Court of Appeal erred in implicitly requiring a showing of bad
faith to prevail on a timely trial claim. To the extent that the
Court of Appeal’s opinion may be construed as applying such a
rule, we agree with Camacho that bad faith on the part of the
prosecution is not necessary to establish a constitutional
violation. As the United States Supreme Court recognized in
Doggett, “Between diligent prosecution and bad-faith delay,
official negligence in bringing an accused to trial occupies the
middle ground. While not compelling relief in every case where
bad-faith delay would make relief virtually automatic, neither
is negligence automatically tolerable.” (Doggett, supra, 505 U.S.
at pp. 656–657.
Ultimately, though the People should have exhibited
greater diligence in ensuring Camacho was timely brought to
trial, the record shows that the People do not bear most of the
responsibility for the delays; as discussed above, the
responsibility falls primarily with the defense.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
We now assess the trial court’s responsibility for the delay.
In the criminal context, this court has recognized that the trial
court “ ‘has an affirmative constitutional obligation to bring the
defendant to trial in a timely manner. [Citation.] And to that
end, it is entirely appropriate for the court to set deadlines and
to hold the parties strictly to those deadlines unless a
continuance is justified by a concrete showing of good cause for
the delay. [Citation.] The trial judge is the captain of the ship;
and it goes without saying that the ship will go in circles if the
crew is running around the deck with no firm marching
orders.’ ” (Williams, supra, 58 Cal.4th at p. 251, quoting State
v. Couture
(2010) 357 Mont. 398, 427.
Camacho’s case did indeed go in circles, and the trial court
appears to bear some responsibility. From the limited available
record, it appears the trial court allowed long periods of time to
elapse without setting a trial date at all; if the trial court made
efforts to move the case along, they are not apparent.
The Attorney General argues that the trial court’s conduct
is “more properly characterized as acceding in Camacho’s desire
to delay trial rather than as negligence.” But what we have said
of the People is equally true of the trial court: There are risks
and drawbacks to a policy of readily acceding to an alleged SVP’s
perceived wishes to delay trial. Because trial courts ultimately
control when trial will be held, they bear particular
responsibility for preserving an alleged SVP’s constitutional
right to a timely trial.
Trial courts have a number of tools available to fulfill their
responsibility to advance a case to trial in a timely manner.
Courts should make affirmative inquiries about the procedural
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
posture of a case and the status of counsel’s trial preparation;
ask alleged SVPs about their wishes for the timing of trial (or, if
the alleged SVP is not present, ask counsel whether there is
ongoing communication with the alleged SVP about their wishes
regarding trial timing); set a date for trial within a reasonable
time from the probable cause hearing; and carefully examine the
propriety of continuing that date once it has been set. As in the
criminal context, it is “ ‘entirely appropriate for the court to set
deadlines and to hold the parties strictly to those deadlines.’ ”
(Williams, supra, 58 Cal.4th at p. 251.
Indeed, the recent amendments to the SVP Act now
require the court to proceed with a trial date, once set, unless a
continuance is justified by good cause. (Welf. & Inst. Code,
§ 6603, subd. (c).) To show good cause, the parties must provide
written materials that detail “specific facts showing that a
continuance is necessary.” (Ibid.) What constitutes good cause
will vary from case to case, but a party’s showing of good cause
should generally demonstrate due diligence in preparing for
trial. Any continuance shall last “only for the period of time
shown to be necessary” by the specific factual circumstances
justifying the continuance. (Id., subd. (c)(7).) Even when an
alleged SVP has entered a time waiver, courts should remind
the parties that a trial cannot be delayed indefinitely and must
still be held within a reasonable timeframe.
Trial courts also bear the critical duty of creating an
adequate record to enable review of any claims that trial has
been unconstitutionally delayed. The limitations in the record
of this case make our review challenging; such record
deficiencies are to be avoided in future cases, and should be
helped through careful adherence to the requirements of written
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
justification under Welfare and Institutions Code section 6603,
subdivision (c).7
Limited though the record may be in this case, however,
both parties have stipulated to a joint version of events and the
available record supplies a sufficient basis for our decision
today. On this record, while the court certainly could have done
more to urge the case to trial and enforce deadlines, the
responsibility for the delay rests primarily with the defense.
The second Barker factor thus weighs against finding a violation
of his constitutional right to a timely trial.
Analysis of the third Barker factor, the petitioner’s
assertion of his right to a timely trial, does not hinge on “ ‘the
number of times the accused acquiesced or objected; rather, the
focus is on the surrounding circumstances, such as the
timeliness, persistence, and sincerity of the objections, the
reasons for the acquiescence, whether the accused was
represented by counsel, the accused’s pretrial conduct (as that
conduct bears on the speedy trial right), and so forth. [Citation.]
The totality of the accused’s responses to the delay is indicative
of whether he or she actually wanted a speedy trial.’ ”
(Williams, supra, 58 Cal.4th at p. 238, quoting State v. Couture,
, 357 Mont. at p. 417.) Viewing the complete picture
matters because “[t]he more serious the deprivation [of the right
We additionally note that, as is typically true, a more
complete record of proceedings may be developed by way of a
petition for writ of habeas corpus. In this case, Camacho has
had the opportunity to present evidence that Davis acted
against his wishes in requesting trial continuances and entering
time waivers on his behalf. He has not, however, presented any
such evidence.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
to a speedy trial], the more likely a defendant is to complain.”
(Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at p. 531.
It bears some emphasis that assertion of the right is only
one factor in the analysis, and not a dispositive one; in Barker,
the court explicitly rejected the argument that a defendant must
expressly demand a speedy trial or else be deemed to have
waived the right. (Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at p. 528.) Instead,
the court instructed that “the defendant’s assertion of or failure
to assert his right to a speedy trial” is just one factor to balance
against the others and must be evaluated in a holistic manner.
(Ibid.) This flexibility allows courts “to attach a different weight
to a situation in which the defendant knowingly fails to object
from a situation in which his attorney acquiesces in long delay
without adequately informing his client, or from a situation in
which no counsel is appointed.” (Id. at p. 529.) The high court
emphasized, however, that “failure to assert the right will make
it difficult for a defendant to prove that he was denied a speedy
trial.” (Id. at p. 532.
According to the available record, Camacho first
demanded trial in October 2018. Camacho did not demand trial
at any point over the previous decade, including in July 2018,
when he made his first court appearance in eight years. There
is no evidence that he previously asked Davis to go to trial and
was ignored; nor does he allege an inability to communicate with
Davis during his eight-year absence from court. Camacho was
free to offer evidence that defense counsel acted against his
wishes in delaying trial when he filed his motion to dismiss, but
he did not do so. In sum, there is no evidence that Camacho
sought to go to trial before October 2018 and was prevented from
exercising his right to do so. On this record, we are not
persuaded that Camacho desired trial before October 2018 and
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
we conclude this Barker factor weighs against his claim of a due
process violation.
The final Barker factor is the prejudice to the defendant
caused by the delay in bringing the case to trial. “Prejudice, of
course, should be assessed in the light of the interests of
defendants which the speedy trial right was designed to
protect.” (Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at p. 532.) In the criminal
context, the court has identified “three such interests: (i) to
prevent oppressive pretrial incarceration; (ii) to minimize
anxiety and concern of the accused; and (iii) to limit the
possibility that the defense will be impaired.” (Ibid.) In the SVP
context, we consider the same interests, but acknowledge
differences in how the interests arise.
We begin with the “most serious” interest: the “possibility
that the defense will be impaired.” (Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at
p. 532.) The Barker court identified this as the most important
interest covered by the Sixth Amendment speedy trial right,
since impairment to an individual’s ability to present a defense
“skews the fairness of the entire system.” (Barker, at p. 532.
Of course, not every case raises such concerns; indeed, a
criminal defendant may affirmatively deploy delay as a “defense
tactic.” (Id. at p. 521.) “[U]nlike the right to counsel or the right
to be free from compelled self-incrimination, deprivation of the
right to speedy trial does not per se prejudice the accused’s
ability to defend himself.” (Ibid.) But in many criminal cases,
a period of lengthy pretrial delay may impose real detriment to
an individual’s ability to mount a defense; defense witnesses
may die, disappear, or lose their memory of the relevant events.
(Id. at p. 532.) Because “time’s erosion of exculpatory evidence
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
and testimony ‘can rarely be shown’ . . . we generally have to
recognize that excessive delay presumptively compromises the
reliability of a trial in ways that neither party can prove or, for
that matter, identify.” (Doggett, supra, 505 U.S. at p. 655,
quoting Barker, at p. 532.) Accordingly, in the criminal context,
“ ‘[a]ffirmative proof of particularized prejudice is not essential
to every speedy trial claim’ . . . ‘[w]hile such presumptive
prejudice cannot alone carry a Sixth Amendment claim . . . it is
part of the mix of relevant facts, and its importance increases
with the length of delay.’ ” (People v. Horning (2004) 34 Cal.4th
871, 892, quoting Doggett, at pp. 655–656.
There is little reason, however, to apply a presumption of
trial prejudice in the SVP context. As previously noted, trial on
a petition for commitment under the SVP Act aims to establish
whether a person meets the definition of an SVP at the time of
. This inquiry is categorically different from that of a
criminal trial, where the issue is whether the defendant’s past
conduct constitutes guilt of a particular offense. In the SVP
context, then, time ordinarily will not erase critical evidence for
the defense, since the jury relies on recent expert evaluations to
evaluate whether the individual qualifies as an SVP at the time
of trial. In Camacho’s case, for example, though his defense may
suffer if the author of the favorable 2015 report recommending
release became unavailable to testify, that evidence is unlikely
to be dispositive. Camacho will still need updated evaluations
by mental health experts before he can proceed to trial. Mental
status may fluctuate over time, and the jury will focus on the
most recent evidence to determine whether the alleged SVP
meets the commitment criteria at the time of trial. Severe
prejudice to the alleged SVP’s defense is less likely to result
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
purely as a function of the passage of time; as a result, no
presumption of prejudice applies in this context.8
In addition to prejudice at trial, the Barker court identified
“oppressive pretrial incarceration” and the “anxiety and concern
of the accused” as two other threats the speedy trial right was
designed to ward against. (Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at p. 532.
The court observed that “time spent in jail awaiting trial has a
detrimental impact on the individual. It often means loss of a
job; it disrupts family life; and it enforces idleness. Most jails
offer little or no recreational or rehabilitative programs.” (Ibid.
Being held in anticipation of an SVP trial, like pretrial
detention in a jail, unquestionably entails a severe and
oppressive restriction on liberty that may give rise to feelings of
anxiety and concern. (Addington v. Texas (1979) 441 U.S. 418,
425–426 [noting it is “indisputable that involuntary
commitment to a mental hospital . . . can engender adverse
social consequences to the individual”].) But pretrial SVP
custody does differ from pretrial criminal detention in certain
pertinent respects. After the trial court holds a probable cause
hearing, alleged SVPs are confined at a state hospital, not jail,
and begin receiving mental health treatment while they await
trial. (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6600.05, subd. (a); id., §§ 6602, subd.
(a), 6604.) Pretrial treatment of the underlying mental disorder
We disapprove the following cases to the extent they apply
a presumption of prejudice when evaluating a claimed violation
of the due process right to a timely SVP trial: People v. Tran,
supra, 62 Cal.App.5th at p. 354; In re Butler, supra, 55
Cal.App.5th at p. 662; People v. Bradley, supra, 51 Cal.App.5th
at p. 41; People v. DeCasas, supra, 54 Cal.App.5th at p. 808;
People v. Superior Court (Vasquez), supra, 27 Cal.App.5th at
p. 74.
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
that caused the state to seek commitment in the first place may
ultimately facilitate the individual’s release before trial. This
observation does not, of course, minimize the oppressive nature
of involuntary detention awaiting an SVP trial. But it does to
some extent distinguish pretrial incarceration at a state
hospital from pretrial detention at a jail, which has few
rehabilitative resources.
Determining how heavily to weigh the prejudice resulting
from pretrial custody therefore requires a sensitive inquiry into
the circumstances of the case. For individuals who have never
received a favorable expert evaluation, delay in holding trial will
generally entail less prejudice than for individuals who have a
more substantial basis for arguing they do not satisfy the
criteria for SVP commitment. Where an individual makes such
a showing, the amount of prejudice may increase as the length
of the delay increases. For example, in the case of an individual
who has expert reports recommending release, a four-year delay
in going to trial will generally be significantly more prejudicial
than a one-year delay.
Applying these general principles to Camacho’s case, the
delay here had no appreciable impact on Camacho’s ability to
present his defense. In 2015, one out of four expert reports
concluded — for the first time ever — that Camacho no longer
met the criteria for commitment, and two of the other reports
seemed to suggest he might qualify for conditional release in the
future. The length of delay since that point — approximately
seven years — is significant, and Camacho has been
involuntarily committed throughout that period. We therefore
find some amount of prejudice in Camacho’s case, but no
indication that the delay has undermined the fairness of the
proceedings. Any prejudice is, moreover, extenuated by the fact
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
that Camacho has not shown he in fact wanted a timely trial.
(See Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at p. 534 [“More important than
the absence of serious prejudice, is the fact that Barker did not
want a speedy trial”].
Balancing the Barker factors, we conclude that Camacho
fails to demonstrate a violation of his due process right to a
timely trial. Only one factor — the length of the delay —
strongly supports Camacho’s claim of a due process violation.
Though the trial court and the state seemingly neglected their
responsibility to bring the case to trial in a timely manner, we
agree with the Court of Appeal that the defense, rather than the
state, bears more responsibility for the delay. Camacho did not
demonstrate a desire to go to trial before 2018, nor did he suffer
significant prejudice to his case as a result of the delay. We find
no violation of Camacho’s due process right to a timely trial.
Camacho raises an alternative due process argument:
that the trial court violated his due process rights by failing to
“enact any procedural safeguards to ensure that [he] consented
to the repeated delays in his case” during the eight-year period
when he did not personally appear. In Camacho’s view, if, at
any given hearing, an alleged SVP is not “present in court with
the opportunity to be heard,” due process mandates that “an
appropriate written waiver” of personal appearance must be
We decline to hold that due process requires the
defendant’s personal presence at every hearing, regardless of
the substance of the hearing. As a general rule, a criminal
defendant has no due process right to be present at hearings
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
unless “his presence has a relation, reasonably substantial, to
the fulness of his opportunity to defend against the charge.”
(Snyder v. Massachusetts (1934) 291 U.S. 97, 105–106; id. at
pp. 107–108 [“[T]he presence of a defendant is a condition of due
process to the extent that a fair and just hearing would be
thwarted by his absence, and to that extent only.”].) There is no
reason to believe a different rule should apply in the SVP
context. To require personal presence at every hearing would,
moreover, entail transportation and other logistical costs not
justified by any substantial benefit. If an individual objects to
delays and wishes to assert the right to a speedy or timely trial,
he or she may communicate as much through counsel or
communicate directly with the court; and courts may consider
any difficulties in that communication when determining
whether an individual’s timely trial right has been violated.
(See Barker, supra, 407 U.S. at p. 529.
As discussed above, Camacho fails to show that his
prolonged absence from court was involuntary. Camacho does
not attempt to demonstrate that his presence at any of the
hearings held in his absence would have had a “reasonable,
substantial relation to his opportunity to defend the charges
against him.” (People v. Butler (2009) 46 Cal.4th 847, 861.) Nor
does Camacho allege, much less demonstrate, that his counsel
acted against his wishes in seeking trial continuances during
periods when Camacho was not personally present.
Accordingly, we find no due process violation.
Although Camacho fails to establish a violation of his due
process rights, the Attorney General concedes that the People
and the trial court both could have done more to move the case
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
along. We agree. It bears emphasis that an individual faced
with potential SVP commitment has a due process right to trial
at a reasonable time, and the People and trial court both bear
responsibility for ensuring that right is respected. The trial
court, in particular, has responsibility to exercise its power over
trial timing in a manner that takes account of the individual’s
interests and that adequately guards against unjustified delays.
We have already described what this responsibility
entails, including careful compliance with new statutory
procedures designed to safeguard against unjustified
continuances of previously set trial dates. (Welf. & Inst. Code,
§ 6603, subd. (c).) In view of the vital importance of ensuring
adequate procedures are in place to protect the interests of the
defendant, the state, and the public, we further call on the
Judicial Council to examine the issue. As the policy and
rulemaking body of the courts, the Judicial Council is in the best
position to study the issue of pretrial delays in SVP cases with
the input of interested persons and consider what, if any,
additional safeguards would facilitate timely adjudication of
petitions for commitment under the SVP Act.
Here, however, although the trial court and the People
should have taken more affirmative steps to bring Camacho to
trial, Camacho fails to demonstrate a violation of his due process
right to a timely trial on the petition for recommitment under
Opinion of the Court by Kruger, J.
the SVP Act. Because the Court of Appeal reached the same
conclusion, we affirm its judgment.
We Concur:


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who
argued in Supreme Court.
Name of Opinion Camacho v. Superior Court

Procedural Posture
(see XX below
Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted
Review Granted (unpublished) XX NP opn. filed 1/21/22 – 5th Dist.
Rehearing Granted
Opinion No.
Date Filed: August 31, 2023

County: Merced
Judge: Ronald W. Hansen

Fitzgerald, Alvarez & Ciummo and Douglas C. Foster for Petitioner.
No appearance for Respondent.
Rob Bonta, Attorney General, Lance E. Winters, Chief Assistant
Attorney General, Michael P. Farrell, Assistant Attorney General, Eric
L. Christoffersen, Julie A. Hokans, Rachelle A. Newcomb and Sally
Espinoza, Deputy Attorneys General, for Real Party in Interest.

Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for
publication with opinion):

Douglas C. Foster
Fitzgerald, Alvarez & Ciummo
3185 M Street, Suite 200
Merced, CA 95348
(209) 691-7280
Sally Espinoza
Deputy Attorney General
1300 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 210-6282
Opinion Information
Date:Docket Number:
Thu, 08/31/2023S273391