Cite as S261812
Filed April 28, 2022, California Supreme Court
By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP
Headnote: LPS Conservatorships – Compelling Testimony of Proposed Conservatee
Summary: LPS conservatees are similarly situated to persons found not guilty by reason of insanity for purposes of the right against compelled testimony.
Eric was diagnosed with schizophrenia, unable or unwilling to accept treatment voluntarily, and unable to meet his needs for food and clothing without support. Eric was compelled to testify over his objection at the trial on the public guardian’s LPS conservatorship petition. The public guardian called two other witnesses, a psychiatrist who had evaluated Eric, and a therapist that served as Eric’s case manager, both of whom testified that Eric was unable to care for himself or manage his own financial resources. After a jury trial, Eric was found to be gravely disabled, and placed under an LPS conservatorship. Eric challenged the order on appeal, and the appellate court held that LPS conservatees are similarly situated to persons found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGIs) for the purpose of the right against compelled testimony, but that the trial court’s error was harmless.
The California Supreme Court affirmed. LPS conservatees are similarly situated to NGIs, who are not compelled to testify against themselves, so equal protection principles require the government to justify its disparate treatment of LPS conservatees. Both groups risk the potential loss of liberty by being subject to physical confinement and the loss of many personal rights (the rights to drive, vote, enter contracts, and make decisions about treatment). Both also share the goal of treatment, not punishment. The fact that LPS conservatees can be committed involuntarily for an indefinite period of time through the filing of successive petitions, resulting in deprived civil liberties, makes them similarly situated to NGIs. Nonetheless, no one challenged the appellate court’s conclusion that the trial court’s error in compelling Eric’s testimony was harmless because two other witnesses familiar with Eric provided testimony sufficient for the court to find that Eric was unable to care for himself due to mental illness. Thus, because the error was harmless, the question of whether the government can justify its differential treatment of LPS conservatees with regard to the testimonial privilege—as well as the question of what level of scrutiny applies—must await a decision in another case.