California Court Allows Prosecutor to Obtain Defendant’s Confidential Medical Records under Sexually Violent Predator Act

In a recent California criminal case before a California court of appeals, the court had to decide whether a prosecutor’s office could subpoena and use an alleged sexually violent predator’s confidential medical records in a proceeding under the Sexually Violent Predator Act.

According to the court’s opinion, back in the 1980s, a jury found the defendant guilty of child sex offenses and sentenced him to a total of 23 years in prison. Before he was released, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office filed a sexually violent predator (SVP) petition. In 2009, a jury found the defendant was a sexually violent predator and ordered him to be civilly committed to a state hospital. The defendant filed a petition for unconditional discharge or for conditional release. The district attorney’s office subsequently served a subpoena on the hospital to obtain the defendant’s medical records. The defendant filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing that the prosecutor’s office could not subpoena his confidential medical records.

The Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) allows an individual to be civilly committed for an indefinite term if a jury finds the individual to be a sexually violent predator beyond a reasonable doubt. Under section 6600 of the Act, a SVP is defined as a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense against at least one person and who has been diagnosed with a 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.” An alleged SVP has the right to a jury trial, to the representation of counsel, to retain experts, and to access relevant medical records and reports. Under section 6603(j), a medical evaluator must include a statement of all records the evaluator reviewed, and the parties can request a copy of those records.

The court held that under section 6603(j) of the SVPA, parties can subpoena otherwise confidential medical records. The court explained the SVPA proceedings are civil, and that parties have the right to subpoena relevant documents. The court stated that although the alleged SVP has a right to privacy, that right is not absolute, and that the state also has an interest in protecting the public. The court held that the SVPA expressly allows a district attorney to subpoena and use an alleged SVP’s medical records in the proceedings, and therefore, allowed their use in this case.

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