Trusts and Estates

Conservatorship of Bryan S

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Cite as A156419
Filed November 18, 2019
California Court of Appeal, First District

By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Headnote:  LPS Conservatorships – Compelling Testimony by Proposed Conservatee

Summary:  Proposed LPS conservatees do not have a constitutional right to refuse to testify at their own conservatorship trials, as they are not similarly situated to, or considered, criminal defendants.

Case Brief:

In a contested LPS Conservatorship proceeding the parties stipulated that the proposed conservatee, Bryan, would appear at trial by video conference.  Bryan testified at trial, with no objection from his court-appointed public defender.  The trial court granted the public guardian’s conservatorship petition, finding that the public guardian had established beyond a reasonable doubt that Bryan was gravely disabled as a result of mental disorder and was unable to provide for his food, clothing or shelter.  On appeal, Bryan argued that requiring him to testify violated his constitutional equal protection rights because others who are subject to different kinds of involuntary civil commitment proceedings cannot be compelled to testify.

Held: Affirmed.  Criminal defendants have a right not to testify against themselves, and people involved in non-criminal proceedings cannot be required to incriminate themselves, but there is no constitutional right to refuse to testify in civil proceedings.  Conservatorship proceedings are civil in nature, and it has been held that a proposed conservatee cannot refuse to testify at his or her own conservatorship trial on the basis of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  LPS conservatorships are no different: they are civil proceedings and are not initiated in response to, or necessarily related to, any criminal acts.  Proposed LPS conservatees are distinct from criminal defendants facing involuntary commitment proceedings, because proposed LPS conservatees need not be found to have committed a crime or be a danger to others.  Proposed LPS conservatees have more placement options, including non-institutional settings such as with family or friends, and the court must determine the least restrictive, yet appropriate, placement for conservatees.  Accordingly, proposed LPS conservatees are not similarly situated to criminal defendants facing involuntary civil commitment proceedings, and equal protection does not require that proposed LPS conservatees have a right to refuse to testify.

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