The Stanislaus County district attorney's office will get a do-over in the case of Jesse Calhoun, a man who has been diagnosed as a sexually violent predator and has been involuntarily committed at Coalinga State Hospital.
In a recent opinion, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno said local officials erred when they concluded that Calhoun could be given an "indeterminate" term in the state hospital under Jessica's law, which was approved by voters in November 2006.
A nightmare scenario, the slim chance that Calhoun could be released on a legal technicality, did not come to pass. Instead, the appellate court said Calhoun deserves a new trial to determine if he still meets the criteria to remain involuntarily committed.
"Thankfully, they allowed us the opportunity to refile a petition to have him deemed a sexually violent predator again," Deputy District Attorney Nate Baker said. "And this time it will be for an indeterminate term."
Authorities have classified Calhoun as a pedophile and detained him against his will for more than 10 years under a 1996 law that allows the involuntary commitment of sexual offenders who have a mental disorder that makes them likely to reoffend.
Critics argue that such involuntary commitments are unconstitutional because they are imposed after an offender serves his or her time in prison. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld civil commitment laws, saying the government has a legitimate need to isolate sex offenders who pose a threat to society.
Jessica's law, best known for provisions that keep registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, also tightened rules for civil commitments in California.
Before the initiative passed, men such as Calhoun received trials every two years to determine if they still qualified for involuntary commitments. Now, they may be committed to indeterminate terms that stand until a psychiatrist recommends a supervised release.
The new rules are meant to channel offenders toward treatment because most of the 587 men who have been civilly committed decline to participate in a five-step counseling program the state hospital offers.
Prosecutors in Stanislaus, Monterey, Santa Clara and San Diego counties looked at the new rules and concluded that the law should apply retroactively.
They persuaded judges to convert the terms of a handful of men already in the hospital, ordering indeterminate terms without holding a trial to determine if they still have a mental disorder that makes them likely to reoffend.
Appellate courts in San Jose and Fresno have reversed the first two cases, saying the men must have a final trial before they can be given indeterminate terms, because nothing in the initiative referred to retroactivity.
Calhoun returns to Stanislaus County Superior Court on May 27 for further proceedings.
A similar outcome is expected in the case of John McKinley Wilson, who also was given a retroactive commitment.
Convicted molester, rapist
Calhoun, 47, of Modesto was convicted of molesting the 6-year-old son of his girlfriend and an 11-year-old who lived in his neighborhood in 1985. The appellate court reversed his indeterminate commitment May 5.
Wilson, 53, of Oakdale was convicted of raping an elderly woman during a home invasion robbery in 1975, then raping a woman he took hostage during a convenience store robbery in 1980. An appeal of his indeterminate commitment is pending.
Baker said his office will take sexually violent predators to trial a final time as their two-year terms expire, even though they still think retroactivity should be allowed. He noted that prosecutors in other counties, and two local judges, believed the initiative supported retroactivity.
The prosecutor said recent evaluations suggest Calhoun meets the criteria for further detention. He said the new rules are an improvement, despite wrinkles in their implementation, because they will force offenders such as Calhoun to participate in treatment.
"His only chance of getting out is to get with his treatment program and to overcome his sexual disorder," Baker said.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2338.