Trusts and Estates

Conservatorship of P.D.

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21 Cal.App.5th 1163
Filed March 29, 2018
California Court of Appeal, Second District, Div. 6

By Golnaz Yazdchi
Sheppard Mullin Richter & Gampton LLP

P.D. suffered from schizophrenia, and the Public Guardian sought an LPS conservatorship on the ground that P.D. was gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder. The trial court gave the jury two special instructions concerning the possible consequences of an LPS conservatorship. In the first special instruction, the trial court explained that an LPS conservator would have the right to require the conservatee to obtain medical treatment, to place the conservatee in a facility, and to receive and expend funds for the conservatee. In the second special instruction, the trial court provided information concerning the duration of the LPS conservatorship. The jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that P.D. was gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder. P.D. appealed, arguing that the special instructions confused the jury as to what matters it could consider in determining whether or not P.D. was gravely disabled, which violated P.D.’s due process rights.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. The trial court erred when it instructed the jury about the duration and types of treatment that may be ordered by an LPS conservator, but the error was harmless. Although LPS proceedings are subject to the due process clause because significant civil liberties are at stake, they are nevertheless civil proceedings. Therefore, the rule in criminal cases that any jury instruction about the consequences of a guilty verdict is a violation of due process is not equally applicable to LPS proceedings. Here, the evidence in support of the jury’s finding was overwhelming, so although the special instructions were irrelevant to the jury’s task, they made no difference to the outcome.

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