In re De La O

59 Cal. 2d 128

 

 

 

This matter is before us on an order to show cause issued upon an application for writ of habeas corpus filed in behalf of David De La O, who is confined in the California Rehabilitation Center under an order of commitment entered pursuant to Penal Code section 6450 (post, fn. 1). De La O, hereinafter called petitioner, attacks the constitutionality of the mentioned section and, generally, of chapters 11 and 12, title 7, of part III of the Penal Code. (§§ 6400-6555, added by Stats. 1961, ch. 850, pp. 2223 et seq.) After analysis of the subject statute we have concluded that petitioner's contentions in this respect are not well taken, that he has not established a right to be released from custody, and that the order to show cause should be discharged.

Incidentally, we resolve in favor of petitioner his secondary contention that he is entitled to appellate review of the order of the superior court committing him to the California Rehabilitation Center. This determination, however, does not require that the writ of habeas corpus issue.

Petitioner was charged by criminal complaint in the municipal court with a violation of Health and Safety Code section 11721 . . .  a misdemeanor, in that on a particular date "in the City of Pasadena, County of Los Angeles, State of California" he "did wilfully and unlawfully use and be addicted to the unlawful use of narcotics. . . ." Petitioner waived jury trial; he was found guilty as charged, and a motion for new trial was denied. Thereafter that court on its own motion suspended proceedings in the criminal action over which it had jurisdiction, and certified petitioner to the superior court for proceedings therein pursuant to Penal Code section 6450.1 No judgment  imposing  imprisonment, fine, or other penal sanction has been entered in the criminal case.

 

The superior court conducted a hearing and examination in accordance with the terms of Penal Code section 6450 (ante, fn. 1). Petitioner was represented by counsel and evidence was received. Two physicians who had examined petitioner gave as their opinion that he was a narcotic addict, and recommended that he be committed to the California Rehabilitation Center. Their recommendation was based (1) on physical examination of petitioner which indicated in their opinion that "he was using a drug of the opium series at the time of the examination or shortly used prior to that time" and (2) on the history petitioner gave them that "Heroin started 1943. His maximum use of Heroin has been one and a half grams [a day]. Average use is one gram. He has also used Cocaine and opium." At the conclusion of the hearing the superior court made appropriate findings and entered an order adjudging petitioner to be "a narcotic addict within the meaning of Section 6450 of the Penal Code" and committing him to the custody of the Director of Corrections "for placement as provided for by law, for a period of five years, except as earlier discharge is provided for by law." Petitioner's demand for a jury trial in the superior court on the issue of addiction was denied.  . . .

 

Constitutionality of chapters 11 and 12, title 7, of part III of the Penal Code

Petitioner contends that the subject statute ( Pen. Code, § 6450, and related sections) is unconstitutional because (1) it  provides criminal penalties for an illness -- narcotics addiction -- thus imposing cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of Robinson v. California (1962) 370 U.S. 660; (2) it denies him a jury trial in the superior court on the issue of addiction while granting the opportunity to demand such a trial to other misdemeanants, thus depriving him of equal protection of the laws; and (3) its operative terms are vague and indefinite. We shall consider these contentions severally in the order stated.

 

Asserted Imposition of Cruel and Unusual Punishment.   In Robinson v. California (1962), supra, 370 U.S. 660, the United States Supreme Court held unconstitutional as there applied the provision of Health and Safety Code section 11721 making it a criminal offense to "be addicted to the use of narcotics."2 The precise language of the subject  holding is as follows): "We hold that a state law which imprisons a person thus afflicted as a criminal, even though he has never touched any narcotic drug within the State or been guilty of any irregular behavior there, inflicts a cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment." (Italics added.) Yet in that decision the high court recognized "The broad power of a State to regulate the narcotic drugs traffic within its borders" (italics added), and observed that "Such regulation, it can be assumed, could take a variety of valid forms.  A State might impose criminal sanctions, for example, against the unauthorized manufacture, prescription, sale, purchase, or possession of narcotics within its borders. In the interest of discouraging the violation of such laws, or in the interest of the general health or welfare of its inhabitants, a State might establish a program of compulsory  treatment for those addicted to narcotics.  Such a program of treatment might require periods of involuntary confinement. And penal sanctions might be imposed for failure to comply with established compulsory treatment procedures." (Italics added.)

We recognize at once that an essential part of the procedural foundation for petitioner's current restraint is his conviction of violating Health and Safety Code section 11721. We note also that petitioner's "status" or "chronic condition" of being (in California) unlawfully "addicted to the use of narcotics" (see Robinson v. California (1962), supra, 370 U.S. 660) is considered to constitute a sufficient ground for conviction of violating section 11721 and therefore to prima facie establish the status of eligibility for initiation of the procedures contemplated by Penal Code section 6450. The case at bench, however, differs from Robinson in these, among other, vital respects: (1) no judgment of conviction of violating Health and Safety Code section 11721 has here been entered; (2) petitioner is not being held under any penal sanction -- rather, the criminal action is suspended; and (3) he is being held under involuntary restraint for compulsory treatment and rehabilitation procedures as provided by Penal Code section 6450.

The issue is whether the statutory scheme here challenged (a) "imprisons" petitioner "as a criminal," or (b) constitutes "compulsory treatment" of petitioner as a sick person requiring "periods of involuntary confinement." If the former, it would be unconstitutional under Robinson as cruel and unusual punishment (U.S. Const., 8th and 14th Amends.; Cal. Const., art I, § 6); if the latter, it would be valid under the same decision as a constitutionally permissible exercise of the state's power to regulate the narcotic drug traffic.  The criteria by which this issue is to be determined, however,  are not so easily defined. In Robinson little difficulty was experienced by the majority in holding on the issues then before them that Health and Safety Code section 11721 . . .  imposed criminal penalties, in view of that statute's provision that any person "convicted" of a violation thereof "is guilty of a misdemeanor" and shall be "sentenced to serve" a term of "not less than 90 days nor more than one year in the county jail." No such provision appears in the measure ( Pen. Code, § 6450) under which petitioner is currently restrained. Rather, analysis of the present statute -- its origin, purpose, terms, operation, and effect -- discloses not just one but a number of factors to be considered in this connection, of varying relevance and weight.

 

The criteria by which this issue is to be determined, however,  are not so easily defined. In Robinson little difficulty was experienced by the majority in holding on the issues then before them that Health and Safety Code section 11721 . . . imposed criminal penalties, in view of that statute's provision that any person "convicted" of a violation thereof "is guilty of a misdemeanor" and shall be "sentenced to serve" a term of "not less than 90 days nor more than one year in the county jail." No such provision appears in the measure ( Pen. Code, § 6450) under which petitioner is currently restrained. Rather, analysis of the present statute -- its origin, purpose, terms, operation, and effect -- discloses not just one but a number of factors to be considered in this connection, of varying relevance and weight.  . . .

 

[The Petitioner argued that section 6450 envisioned criminal sanctions because the section was codified as part of the California Code entitled “Of Imprisonment and the Death Penalty” and was entirely administered by the Department of Corrections.  The Court rejected both arguments.]

 

The Petitioner stresses the fact that his commitment is for a minimum of six months ( Pen. Code, § 6403) and a maximum of five years (§ 6450, ante, fn. 1; see also § 6506, which provides the same maximum in cases of persons not charged with crime, including (as provided in § 6500) "any person who believes himself to be addicted or about to become addicted [to the unlawful use of narcotics]" and who therefore reports his belief to the designated officer). It is argued that neither the minimum nor the maximum is in any way related to the treatment or rehabilitation of the addict as a sick person, and hence that these requirements show a legislative intent to imprison the addict as a criminal. While superficially appealing, the argument does not withstand analysis in the light of the facts of narcotics addiction and rehabilitation.

First, there is medical evidence that the addict will benefit from a minimum period of confinement and control during which he is deprived of narcotics, thus permitting the withdrawal symptoms to run their course and alleviate at least his physiological dependence on drugs. In recognition of this fact, the Legislature has long provided for just such a minimum term of confinement under the Narcotic Drug Addicts Law of the Welfare and Institutions Code (div. 6, pt. 1, ch. 3, art. 1, esp. §§ 5355, 5355.7, and 5360) -- the provisions of which were characterized as "civil procedures" by the United States Supreme Court in Robinson v. California (1962), supra, 370 U.S. 660], footnote 7  . . .  . Once it is conceded that some minimum period of confinement of the narcotics addict is constitutionally permissible, the precise length of that period is largely a matter for the reasonable judgment of the Legislature. Here that period is fixed at six months. It is true that the above cited provisions of the Welfare and Institutions Code (§§ 5355 et seq.) fix the period at three months, but the Legislature is allowed some leeway in translating into exact figures such medically imprecise concepts as the minimum beneficial term of confinement. Indeed, these same Welfare and Institutions Code provisions originally fixed the minimum at eight months (see former § 5355, based on Stats. 1927, ch. 89, § 3, p. 150); and at the federal narcotics hospitals at Lexington and Fort Worth the recommended minimum period of confinement believed necessary for rehabilitation is four to six months (see Drug Addiction: Crime or Disease? (Interim and Final Reports of the Joint Committee of the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association on Narcotic Drugs) (1961), Appendix A, p. 87; Winick, Narcotics Addiction and Its Treatment (1957), 22 Law & Contemp. Prob. 9, 23-24, quoted in Robinson v. California (1962), supra, 370 U.S. 660  [concurring opinion]). In the circumstances, the Legislature's choice of the figure of six months does not appear to be unreasonable.

Second, the fact that a maximum of five years is placed on the term of confinement does not make it any the less a confinement that is essentially for an indeterminate period. Each of the relevant sections of the subject statute provides that the addict shall be committed for the fixed period "except as this chapter permits earlier discharge." ( Pen. Code, §§ 6450, 6451, 6506.) The proviso refers, of course, to the procedures set up for parole (§ 6403) and subsequent discharge from the program (§ 6520). Similarly indeterminate commitments are authorized for narcotic drug addicts confined under Welfare and Institutions Code section 5355 ("for an indeterminate period of not less than three months nor more than two  years");9 and indeterminate commitments without fixed maximum terms are provided for mentally ill persons . . . sexual psychopaths . . ., and defective or psychopathic delinquents . . . . Thus the use of the device of indeterminate commitment in the subject statute appears neither novel nor invalid per se. . . .

 

When the indeterminate commitment aspect of the subject statute is thus viewed in its proper light, there is obviously no merit in petitioner's further contention that he has been "sentenced to serve five years" for a misdemeanor in violation of Penal Code section 19a (one-year maximum for misdemeanors).

 

It will be observed, however, that whereas the maximum period of confinement of a person committed under Penal Code section 6450 (such as petitioner here) is five years, that maximum is fixed at ten years in the case of one committed under section 6451 (applicable to a defendant convicted of "any crime in any superior court"). It is contended that this longer maximum term for felons can be justified only as a penal sanction. But "It is generally accepted that addiction is largely the result of personal inadequacy, emotional instability, and social maladjustment." (Eldridge, Narcotics and The Law (1962), p. 123.) As the author points out (ibid ., fn. 3), "Such causal factors actually play a large part in most criminal activity." If a principal cause of narcotics addiction is the psycho-social maladjustment of the user, and if a person convicted of a felony tends to suffer from greater psycho-social maladjustment than one convicted of a misdemeanor, then it would not seem unreasonable to expect that a longer period of readjustment and rehabilitation may be necessary for the felon-addict than for the misdemeanant-addict.  . . .

 

[The Petitioner then argued that section 6450 imposed criminal sanctions because (1) the code treated him as a prisoner for the purposes of the laws sanctioning escapes; (2) his ultimate release was reviewed by the agency that determines conditions of parole for convicts; and (3) the intake procedures followed in his case were the same used with regard to convicts, i.e., he was fingerprinted, searched, shaved, had his mail censored and visitors limited and monitored. ]

 

[T]he foregoing provisions of the subject statute . . . have arguably "criminal" overtones -- although in virtually each instance similar provisions may be found in the civil commitment procedures of the Welfare and Institutions Code. We turn now to provisions of the subject statute which can only be viewed as civil in nature, purpose, and effect.

. . . At the outset of the statute, section 6400 declares its legislative purpose: "The narcotic detention, treatment and rehabilitation facility referred to herein shall be one within the Department of Corrections whose principal purpose shall be the receiving, segregation, confinement, employment, education, treatment and rehabilitation of persons under custody of the Department of Corrections or any agency thereof who are or have been addicted to narcotics or who by reason of repeated use of narcotics are in imminent danger of becoming addicted." (Italics added.) An identical declaration of purpose is made in chapter 12 (§ 6551), which sets up the California Rehabilitation Center. . . .

 

The commitment procedures do not involve trial by jury as in criminal cases, but rather incorporate the special civil procedures of the Welfare and Institutions Code. . . . Similar commitment steps are spelled out in article 3 of the subject statute (§ 6500-6505), dealing with persons not charged with a crime. Of particular interest here is the provision whereby voluntary self-commitment proceedings may be instituted by "any person who believes himself to be addicted or about to become addicted" (§ 6500). . . .

 

Finally, petitioner makes various allegations concerning the actual conditions of his confinement. . . .

It appears, however, that the branch of the California Rehabilitation Center where petitioner is confined  is physically and administratively distinct from the other facilities at Chino and consists of 16 buildings including dormitories, gymnasium, mess hall, academic and vocational buildings, and others; that the California Rehabilitation Center employs a full-time psychiatrist and professionally trained counselors and therapists; and that petitioner is given daily group therapy and twice weekly intensive therapy in small units of not more than 15 men, all under the direction of trained counselors.  In addition, the California Rehabilitation Center provides a specially selected vocational and academic program.  . . .

 

It is appropriate here to draw some conclusions.  From the declarations of purpose and other provisions discussed hereinabove it appears that in enacting the subject statute the Legislature intended to create a new program for the confinement (which in truth is a quarantine rather than penal sanction), treatment, and rehabilitation of narcotics addicts. . . .

 

The Legislature, as has been shown, created in response a program and an institution designed to achieve these goals, but then placed them under the direction and control of the Director of Corrections and codified the new statutory scheme in the Penal Code. The introduction of these external indicia of criminality was, in our view, both unnecessary and unfortunate, as they may well constitute those aspects of the program which are most resented by the persons committed (who should be explicitly designated as patients, without indicia of criminality) and most noticed by others on their return to society, thus producing a possibly negative effect on the chances of success. Mindful, however, of our duty to uphold every legislative enactment unless it is in any event palpably obnoxious to the Constitution, we are of the opinion that the demonstrably civil purpose, mechanism, and operation of the program outweigh its external "criminal" indicia, and hence that petitioner's commitment and confinement thereunder do not constitute cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of Robinson v. California (1962), supra, 370 U.S. 660. . . .

 

[Therefore] Petitioner is [not] now entitled to be released from custody. The order to show cause is discharged and the petition for habeas corpus is denied.



[1] Penal Code section 6450 provides in pertinent part: "Upon conviction of a defendant of any crime in a municipal or justice court, if it appears to the judge that the defendant may be addicted or by reason of repeated use of narcotics may be in imminent danger of becoming addicted to narcotics, such judge shall adjourn the proceedings or suspend the imposition of the sentence and certify the defendant to the superior court.

"The superior court shall direct the sheriff to file a petition to ascertain if such defendant is addicted to narcotics or is in imminent danger of becoming addicted thereto. Proceedings shall be conducted in substantial compliance with Sections 5353, 5053, 5054, and 5055 of the Welfare and Institutions Code.

"If, after a hearing and examination, the judge shall find that the defendant charged is a narcotic drug addict, or by reason of repeated use of narcotics is in imminent danger of becoming addicted thereto, and is not ineligible for the program under the application of Section 6452 hereof, he shall make an order committing such defendant to the custody of the Director of Corrections for a period of five years, except as this chapter permits earlier discharge. If, upon the hearing, the judge shall find that the defendant is not a narcotic drug addict and is not in imminent danger of becoming addicted to narcotics, he shall so certify and return the defendant to the municipal or justice court which certified such defendant to the superior court for such further proceedings as the judge of such municipal or justice court deems warranted."

[2] Health and Safety Code section 11721 provides in full: "No person shall use, or be under the influence of, or be addicted to the use of narcotics, excepting when administered by or under the direction of a person licensed by the State to prescribe and administer narcotics. It shall be the burden of the defense to show that it comes within the exception. Any person convicted of violating any provision of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be sentenced to serve a term of not less than 90 days nor more than one year in the county jail. The court may place a person convicted hereunder on probation for a period not to exceed five years and shall in all cases in which probation is granted require as a condition thereof that such person be confined in the county jail for at least 90 days. In no event does the court have the power to absolve a person who violates this section from the obligation of spending at least 90 days in confinement in the county jail."