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Denial of Release to Conditional Release Affirmed

In 2014, Defendant Michael Diggs sold methamphetamine to another man, went to the buyer’s house and fell asleep on the man’s couch while the man smoked the methamphetamine. 

According to Diggs, he awoke to find the other man laying on top of him, naked.  According to Diggs, this triggered a flashback to a childhood memory of sexual abuse Diggs experienced as a child and so Diggs reacted by striking the other man repeatedly with a hatchet, killing him.  Diggs then poured bleach, Epson salt and other products on the victim to supposedly get rid of evil spirits.  Diggs then left the house.

At the time of the offense, Diggs was on parole and had been heavily using methamphetamine for about 45 days.  He continued to use other substances after the offense.

Diggs was later arrested and charged with murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to Napa State Hospital (Napa) for a term of 50 years to life.

Diggs was first diagnosed with schizophrenia and posttraumatic stress disorder.  This diagnosis was later changed to amphetamine-induced psychotic disorder (PTSD), severe methamphetamine use disorder that was in sustained remission and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) with narcissistic traits.

In 2017 he was sent two Christmas cards with methamphetamine and in 2019, he tested positive for methamphetamine.  Following these two incidents, Diggs refused to participate in any further drug treatment or testing at Napa.  In 2019, he was transferred to Patton State Hospital.

In December 2020, Diggs filed for release into a controlled release program (CONREP) under Penal Code § 1026.2, wherein a person may petition for release from a state hospital commitment on the grounds of restoration of sanity.

The petition is reviewed in a two-step process.  The first step is an outpatient placement hearing, at which the applicant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she will not be “a danger to the health and safety of others, due to mental defect, disease, or disorder, if under the supervision and treatment in the community.”  Penal Code §§ 1026.2(e) and (k). 

If the judge makes this finding, the applicant is “placed with an appropriate forensic conditional release program for one year.”  § 1026.2(e).  The applicant again bears the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she will not be a danger due to a mental defect, disease or disorder.  Penal Code §§ 1026.2(e) and (k).

The second step is referred to as the restoration of sanity trial and can only be reached if the applicant has already met the threshold test for placement in “an appropriate forensic conditional release program.”  People v. Dobson (2008) 161 Cal. App. 4th 1422, 1433.

The trial court denied Diggs’ petition, finding that he had not carried his burden in the first part of the process in showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he would not be a danger to the community if released on CONREP.  
The judge further noted that his underlying murder was related to Diggs being in a psychotic state through methamphetamine use and that since the murder, Diggs had not conquered his amphetamine use disorder because there were incidents of illegal possession of methamphetamine and use of methamphetamine while he was at Napa.

The judge found that Diggs’ use of methamphetamine, combined with Diggs’ ASPD “provided the trigger to very violent activity that we’ve seen.”  Finally, the court found that Diggs had not “engaged in any meaningful treatment that is necessary for substance-use disorder to be ready for release at this time.”

Diggs appealed this ruling to First Appellate District, arguing that the evidence did not support the trial court’s ruling that he would be dangerous if released into CONREP. 

The First Appellate District explained that it reviewed the trial court’s ruling for an abuse of discretion.  “The term judicial discretion implies the absence of arbitrary determination, capricious disposition, or whimsical thinking.  . . . Discretion is abused only if the court exceeds all bounds of reasons, all of the circumstances being considered.” People v. Henderson (1986) 187 Cal. App. 3d 1263, 1268.

The appellate court found no such abuse, as the prosecution presented an expert report from a psychiatrist who interviewed Diggs for five hours and concluded Diggs had yet to accept his diagnosis or engage in substance abuse treatment.

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