Quick Summary of Conservatorship of Joanne R.
Conservatorship of Joanne R., 72 Cal. App. 5th 1009, 287 Cal. Rptr. 3d 829 (2021), reh'g denied (Jan. 4, 2022)
Issue: When the trial court provided conservatee with a jury trial waiver advisement regarding delays and offers two options, did the trial court improperly induced appellant to waive her right to a jury trial via "coercion". The appellate court noted that although it is concerned by the delay in providing timely jury trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no violation of conservatee's statutory right to a jury trial nor did the trial court proffer some reward/coercion to waive jury trial.
Holding: The appellate court found that the trial court did not impel the conservatee to choose a bench trial over a jury trial via an offer of a reward that presented a "substantial danger of unintentional coercion" thereby violating right to due process, and that the conservatee made a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent decision to waive her right to a jury trial free from intimidation, coercion, or deception pursuant to People v. Collins (2001) 26 Cal.4th 297, 312, 109 Cal.Rptr.2d 836, 27 P.3d 726.
DID THE TRIAL COURT BY MEANS OF DECEPTION OR OFFER OF REWARD, VIOLATE CONSERVATEE'S DUE PROCESS RIGHT TO WAIVE HER JURY TRIAL RIGHTS FREE FROM COERCION?
Counsel contends that the case law governing criminal proceedings are in pari materia with LPS civil commitment proceedings. In a criminal proceeding, a defendant's waiver of right to jury trial may not be accepted by the court unless the defendant knowing and intelligently makes the decision with full awareness both of the consequences behind abandoning it. The decision must be voluntary and it must be a product of a free and deliberate choice not one due to intimidation, coercion, or deception from the bench officer.
Conservatee contends the trial court did not provide her an adequate jury trial waiver advisement and that the trial court improperly coerced her to waive her right to a jury trial by informing her she could either have a court trial that day or a jury trial nine months later due to delays. Conservatee contends that the trial court improperly “coerced” her to waive her rights by providing a “vague” benefit for waiving her right to jury trial. Conservatee construes that the trial court’s advice that she could have an immediate court trial or wait until November (nine months later) for a jury trial was coercion and that the court cited some incidental “benefit” not stated on the record.
The trial court record did indicate that it stated that it was generally concerned with delayed jury trials:
A conservatee’s right to a jury trial has little meaning if the conservatee can only exercise that right after spending nine months of a one-year term in a custodial setting.
However, the record shows that the trial court did not coerce the conservatee but just simply explained that due to delays from the pandemic, jury trials were being scheduled months out. It then offered the conservatee a chance to choose after giving that information.
After advising [conservatee] that she could have a court trial that day but a jury trial could not be scheduled until November, the court inquired, “Do you know which kind of trial you’d like to have?” [conservatee] answered that she preferred to have a jury trial, but she did not want to wait until November, emphasizing, “I want to do it as soon as possible.”
The trial court stressed that in most circumstances a conservatee should have a jury trial within the time limits as it would violate due process for the conservatee to have a jury trial close to the time when the conservatorship would otherwise end after a year; however, when there is a health emergency, lengthy delays were unavoidable and out of either party's control.
This brings us to the second issue....
DID THE CONSERVATEE MAKE A KNOWING, INTELLIGENT, AND VOLUNTARY DECISION BASED ON ALL OF THE AVAILABLE INFORMATION?
Given that the trial court did not act in a manner to coerce or offer a reward for waiver of jury trial rights, the next issue is whether the conservatee made a voluntary and informed decision based on the trial court's information/advisement to waive her jury trial rights.
The trial court record shows that no time did the trial court suggest conservatee would be rewarded if she elected to waive a jury trial. The trial court provided the conservatee with all of the important information regarding jury trials. The trial court advised conservatee that a jury is comprised of 12 members; the jury would hear the evidence and then decide whether the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt she is gravely disabled; and the jury would need to make a unanimous decision. The court also explained the difference between a bench trial and a jury trial and who the fact finder would be.
The court's failure to advise that Joanne, through her counsel, had the right to participate in jury selection did not invalidate her jury waiver given the other advisements that informed Joanne of “the essence of the jury trial right.” (People v. Daniels, supra, 3 Cal.5th at p. 1019, 221 Cal.Rptr.3d 777, 400 P.3d 385 (conc. & dis. opn. of Corrigan, J.).) Under the totality of the circumstances, Joanne's jury trial waiver was knowing and intelligent.
The only other fact was that the court encouraged her to talk to her lawyer before making a decision. After all of these advisements and one question, conservatee confirmed she wanted to proceed with a court trial that day.
DID THE DELAYS IN JURY TRIAL BEYOND THE STATUTORY DEADLINE DEPRIVE THE TRIAL COURT OF ITS JURISDICTION?
Although the appellate court did not give great consideration to this issue, the issue of whether untimely delays divest the trial court of its jurisdiction was brought up.
Under, W & I code § 5350, (d)(2), a court or jury trial shall commence within 10 days of the date of the demand unless the attorney for the proposed conservatee requests up to a 15-day continuance.
The appellee cited to Conservatorship of Jose B and opined that depending on the fact pattern a delayed jury trial does not always divest the court of its jurisdiction, as the Welf & I C code is directory not mandatory, meaning that because there is not a codified “consequence” for failure to commence the trial within 10 days of the demand holding the provision mandatory would divest a trial court of jurisdiction by a “mere implication” rather than by express statutory intent.
This appellate court noted that although "We are deeply troubled by the significant delay of over four months in holding a trial on [the] petition, especially given the lack of any justification by the court for most of the delay", cited to Conservatorship of Jose B. Simply stated, the pandemic was reasonable cause for delay and because of this late jury trial hearings were not dispositive.
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