California v. AlsafarAnnotate this Case
Faris Alsafar appealed the extension of his period of commitment to a state mental hospital as a mentally disordered offender (MDO). He argued the trial court violated his constitutional right to equal protection when it compelled him to testify over his objection at the trial to determine whether his commitment should be extended. Alsafar contended that because persons subject to civil commitment after being found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) have a statutory right, pursuant to Penal Code section 1026.5 (b)(7) not to be compelled to testify in proceedings to extend their commitments, so should a person facing commitment as a MDO. He pointed out that this right has been extended to commitment proceedings for sexually violent predators (SVP) by application of equal protection principles. The Attorney General argued it was not a denial of equal protection to treat MDO’s differently from NGI’s, and any disparate treatment was related to a legitimate government purpose. Alternatively, she maintained any error was harmless. The Court of Appeal asked the parties to submit supplemental letter briefs discussing a recently decided opinion by Division Two of the Fourth District, which held that MDO’s, SVP’s, and NGI’s were all similarly situated with respect to the testimonial privilege provided for in section 1026.5(b)(7). In addition, it looked as if Alsafar’s one-year commitment order expired while the appeal was pending due to the Court of Appeal’s “pressing caseload.” The Court ordered the parties to notify the Court if there was a new commitment order, and if this ruling rendered the appeal moot. The Court concluded the question of equal protection was a legal issue of continuing public importance that was likely to reoccur in MDO proceedings. “A reviewing court may exercise its inherent discretion to resolve an issue rendered moot by subsequent events if the question to be decided is of continuing public importance and is a question capable of repetition, yet evading review.” Because Alsafar had been recommitted without being required to testify, the issue of equal protection was rendered moot as to him.