Stiavetti v. Ahlin (State Hospital Suit)

Active Case
Aug 25, 2021

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed a lawsuit against California’s Department of State Hospitals (DSH) and Department of Developmental Services (DDS) for violating the constitutional rights of defendants who have been declared incompetent to stand trial due to having a psychiatric or intellectual disability. The lawsuit demands that the state reduce the lengthy delays that these defendants face in being transferred from county jail to the proper treatment facilities.

Under state and federal law, people who lack the ability to understand the nature of criminal court proceedings cannot be tried or sentenced. DSH or DDS must transfer them out of jail in a timely manner so they can be evaluated and treated, and in some cases, regain the ability to participate in court proceedings and address their charges. But in California, defendants wait in jail for several months – sometimes over a year – before they are transferred to a treatment facility.

The suit was filed on behalf of family members of several criminal defendants who were not transferred out of jail in a timely manner. These defendants, as well as the hundreds of other similar defendants around the state, have been exposed to dangerous jail conditions – with devastating consequences to their health and well-being.

On April 26, 2016, the Superior Court denied the government's motions to dismiss the case on demurrer and to strike the complaint.

On March 22, 2019, the court ruled the state “has systematically failed to provide due process." It also ruled that the state of California must admit people deemed incompetent to stand trial for treatment within 28 days of receiving the relevant documents from the court.

On June 15, 2021, the California Court of Appeal upheld the March 2019 Superior Court judgment, ruling that the state’s prolonged detention of people who have been declared incompetent to stand trial due to psychiatric or intellectual disability violates their right to due process. It also upheld the requirement that people be transferred for treatment after no later than 28 days.

On August 25, 2021, the California Supreme Court denied the state’s request for review of the Court of Appeal ruling, which means that California must comply with the Superior Court judgment. This has profound implications for the thousands of people who languish in county jails every year without adequate treatment for their disabilities and without trial.

Learn more

'You can't get out': Mentally ill languish in California jails without trial or treatment (Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2022)

California Supreme Court Rules that the State Must Address the Prolonged Detention in County Jails of Defendants Deemed Incompetent to Stand Trial (Press Release, August 25, 2021)

California Court Rejects the State's Prolonged Detention of People with Psychiatric and Intellectual Disabilities in County Jails (Press Release, June 16, 2021)

Court Rules State Violating Due Process Rights of Defendants with Psychiatric and Intellectual Disabilities (Press Release, March 26, 2019)

ACLU Sues State Hospital System for Failing Criminal Defendants with Psychiatric & Intellectual Disabilities (Press Release, July 29, 2015)

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