Cal.5th: SVP’s dorm is virtually like a prison cell subject to random warrantless searches

Defendant is a sexually violent predator (SVP), and he’s institutionalized. His custodial status shares all the attributes of being in prison, including institutional security. The only place an SVP could hide child pornography is in his dormitory room. His room is subject to search at any time.
People v. Golden, 2017 Cal. App. LEXIS 1171 (5th Dist. Dec. 27, 2017), ordered published Jan. 24, 2018):

Defendant is an SVP. Under the California Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA) (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 6600 et seq.), an SVP is “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” (id., § 6600, subd. (a)(1)). While SVP’s “‘are to be viewed “not as criminals, but as sick persons”’” (People v. Fields (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1001, 1017 [96 Cal. Rptr. 3d 668]), they nonetheless are “confine[d] and treat[ed] … until their dangerous disorders recede and they no longer pose a societal threat” (Moore v. Superior Court (2010) 50 Cal.4th 802, 815 [237 P.3d 530, 114 Cal. Rptr. 3d 199]). An SVP’s commitment to a secured facility like CSH, which “‘“protect[s] the public from [a] dangerous felony offender[] with [a] mental disorder[]”’” (State Dept. of State Hospitals v. Superior Court (2015) 61 Cal.4th 339, 344 [188 Cal. Rptr. 3d 309, 349 P.3d 1013]), is sufficiently analogous to an inmate’s incarceration in prison, which “by definition … [is a] place[] of involuntary confinement of persons who have a demonstrated proclivity for anti-social criminal, and often violent, conduct” (Hudson, supra, at p. 526). Also, akin to prison administrators, CSH staff is “under an obligation to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the [patients]” and “must be ever alert to attempts to introduce … contraband into the premises … .” (Id. at pp. 526–527.) Because treatment and rehabilitation of SVP’s is the purpose of SVPA commitments, it is especially critical for CSH staff to prevent these individuals from procuring child pornography and other illicit material.

“Determining whether an expectation of privacy is ‘legitimate’ or ‘reasonable’ necessarily entails a balancing of interests.” (Hudson, supra, 468 U.S. at p. 527.) Here, the competing interests are defendant’s interest in privacy within his area of the CSH dormitory and society’s interests in both the security and order of a maximum-security psychiatric hospital and the treatment and rehabilitation of SVP’s. “Virtually the only place [patients] can conceal … contraband [such as child pornography] is in their [dormitories].” (Ibid.) A recognition of privacy rights for SVP’s in their dormitories would hamper CSH staff from accessing the dormitories and ferreting out child pornography, the possession of which has become widespread, has incited violence among the patients, and clearly undermines the rehabilitation objective. Searches of the over 800 SVP’s and their dormitories, even if done at random, “‘are valid and necessary to ensure the security of the institution and the safety of [patients]’” (id. at p. 529) as well as promote the rehabilitation objective, giving CSH staff “‘flexibility’” and preventing patients “‘from anticipating, and thereby thwarting, a search for contraband’” (ibid.), a key concern at CSH. We also point out the record establishes a CSH dormitory “‘shares none of the attributes of privacy of a home’” (id. at p. 527): the dormitory itself accommodates multiple patients, officers conduct random searches on a daily basis, and various signs throughout the facility warn patients they are subject to such searches.

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