A bill that would keep court hearings related to the release of sexually violent predators open to the public was unveiled Tuesday by a state senator who worked with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office to craft the legislation.
SB 1023, dubbed the Sexually Violent Predator Act, would prohibit proceedings related to such offenders — or SVPs — from being held behind closed doors, particularly when the hearings involve potentially releasing the offenders to a conditional housing program in the community.
Recently, hearings regarding the proposed release and placement of SVP Alvin Ray Quarles, 57, otherwise known as the “Bolder-Than-Most” rapist, were held behind closed doors in San Diego County Superior Court.
Judge David Gill kept the hearings under wraps due to privacy concerns over the potential disclosure of Quarles’ psychiatric reports.
The closed-door nature of the hearings drew protests from victims’ advocates, include two of Quarles’ victims, Mary Taylor and Cynthia Medina.
Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, who authored SB 1023, issued a joint statement with San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, saying SVP hearings should be held in open court “unless compelling and extraordinary circumstances justify closing the courtroom to the public.”
“District Attorney Summer 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,” Bates said. “Victims, their families, and the public have a legitimate interest in witnessing hearings through which a predator might be released.”
Gill ruled last year that Quarles should be released to a conditional housing program, though that decision is currently being appealed by the District Attorney’s Office.
Quarles, who was previously sentenced to 50 years in prison for committing more than a dozen sexual assaults in the mid-to-late 1980s, was slated to be housed at a residence in Jacumba Hot Springs, but that agreement fell through.
“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,” 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.”
The bill is awaiting referral to a Senate policy committee, Bates’ staff said.
— City News Service
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