East County News Service
February 26, 2020 (San Diego)-- San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan is sponsoring SB 1023, legislation authored by Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) to require that proceedings for the civil commitment of a sexually violent predator and later hearings on a predator’s potential release be in open court and on the record, unless compelling and extraordinary circumstances justify closing the courtroom to the public.
This bill would require a notice to all parties of any proposed closure at least 10 calendar days before a closed court hearing.
“This important legislation supports the principles of democracy and transparency in our justice system by making sure court hearings for sexually-violent predators are open to the public,” DA Stephan said. “As District Attorney, I hear the pain from victims who’ve been terrorized by a sexual predator but are left in the dark and not able to learn pertinent information guaranteed to them by our open courts system.”
She praised the bill for assuring transparency during hearings, adding, that the bill is necessary because closed proceedings are inconsistent with the openness to which most people of a democracy are accustomed. The U.S. Supreme Court has opined that civil proceedings should be closed `only in the `rarest of circumstances.’
“District Attorney Stephan and I believe that court hearings for sexually violent predators should be open to the public unless a judge can provide a compelling reason,” said Senator Bates. “Victims, their families, and the public have a legitimate interest in witnessing hearings through which a predator might be released. I look forward to working with the District Attorney and my legislative colleagues to update the law so that court proceedings concerning sexual predators are not held behind closed doors.”
Victims and their advocates expressed that closing the courtrooms violate their constitutional rights under Marsy’s Law, which grants crime victims the right to attend a defendant’s court proceedings and express their views. SB 1023 is currently awaiting referral to a Senate policy committee.