Five months ago, I discussed the reversals of Texas sexually violent predator civil commitment trials by the court of appeals for such cases, this blog's court, the Ninth in Beaumont. At that time, one of those cases-- In re Commitment of Michael Bohannon-- had been taken up on petition for review to the Texas Supreme Court by the Special (Prison) Prosecution Unit for the State, accepted by that court, argued, but then not yet decided. The decision came down yesterday.
Justice Nathan Hecht wrote for a unanimous court, holding that an expert in a sexually violent predator civil commitment case need not be a physician or a psychologist, that Anna Shursen was struck merely because she was neither of those, that she was otherwise an expert, and that the Supremes respected Beaumont's finding that excluding her was harmful.
Yesterday's opinion assumed without deciding that a physician's testimony was not needed to civilly commit a sexually violent predator. The statute says it's not necessary. The Texas constitution requires physician testimony to commit a person. The point won't need to be decided unless the State was foolish enough to try to commit someone without physician testimony, which I have no reason to think they've ever done. The agency that represents respondents (defendants) in these cases doesn't have as much budget to pay for expert witnesses as the State does. Because of that, it is very rare that a respondent can get a physician to be an expert witness. To complain about that would have to be in an application for writ of habeas corpus, which the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty makes difficult and for which one does not generally get a free lawyer. They'd have to complain about their own trial counsel.
Congratulations to Kenneth Nash and Andrea Medley, my old colleagues at the prison public defender office State Counsel for Offenders.