Judge’s Finding Against Civil Commitment Of A Sex-Offender Is Reversed
- December 31, 2014
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C.H. is a rapist with a history of sex crime convictions for acts committed from 1978 through 2005 against women ages 17 to 36. C.H. also has a history of convictions for drug offenses, robbery, receiving stolen property and theft, parole violations and failure to register as a sex offender. As a result of his previous post-release behaviors and prior pleas and guilty verdicts including sexual assault, attempted criminal sexual contact, terroristic threats, assault, criminal sexual assault, criminal restraint, criminal attempt and rape the State petitioned, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County, for the civil commitment of C.H. pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA)(N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38) upon his scheduled release from the Special Treatment Unit (STU). In May 2012, two State psychiatrists both found that C.H. fit the criteria for civil commitment under the SVPA due to his inability to control his own sexually violent behavior, likelihood of reoffending and danger to the public as set forth in In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109 (2009) and In re Civil Commitment of A.H.B., 386 N.J. Super. 16 (App. Div. 2006). The State’s burden of proof in seeking civil commitment is clear and convincing evidence pursuant to In re Civil Commitment of J.H.M., 367 N.J. Super. 599 (App. Div. 2003). During a commitment hearing, C.H.’s psychiatrist contended that C.H. was not “highly likely” to reoffend if released. Although the judge held that C.H. suffered from paraphilia, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and polysubstance abuse and there was a risk that C.H. would reoffend, the judge held that the State had not met its burden of proof. In re the Civil Commitment of C.H. resulted in the State’s appeal of the judge’s finding with regard to C.H.’s likelihood of reoffending. Pursuant to In re Civil Commitment of T.J.N., 390 N.J. Super. 218, 225 (App. Div. 2007) a trial court’s order of commitment under the SVPA will be reversed only for “an abuse of discretion or lack of evidence to support it.” Under In re D.C., 146 N.J. 31 (1996) the record must be reviewed to determine whether the judge’s decision reflected the evidence presented and findings set forth by the experts for both sides collectively where the factfinder would not have sufficient knowledge to make an informed decision without reference to expert opinions. Reasoning that the judge’s failure to find a risk of re-offense in light of evidence and expert opinions presented was a “mistaken exercise in discretion” the N.J. Appellate Division reversed the matter with direction to the trial judge to more fully review the record with regard to the issues presented at future review hearings regarding the commitment of C.H. If you are facing sex crime charges the consequences are severe including potential registry as a sex-offender under Megan’s Law, the stigma associated with sexual assault perpetrators, prison and possibly civil commitment. If you are charged with a sex crime, you should obtain experienced criminal defense counsel immediately. For more information about sexual assault, rape, internet crimes, solicitation of a minor, endangering the welfare of a minor or other sex crimes in NJ visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.