In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of R.A. , N.J. Super. App. Div.
In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of R.A. , N.J. Super. App. Div. (April 25, 2019)
Submitted by New Jersey Sex Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
The court’s standard applies when the State seeks to recommit a person who was given a conditional discharge. In re Civil Commitment of E.D., 183 N.J. 536, 551 (2005). In that regard, our Supreme Court has stated “for the State to cause the recommitment of a committee who has been conditionally discharged, the State must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the committee is highly likely not to control his or her sexually violent behavior and will reoffend.” Ibid.
The SVPA provides standards and procedures that govern both the conditional discharge from civil commitment and when a person may be recommitted. Section 27.32(c) of the SVPA sets forth the standard and procedures for conditional discharge from commitment. N.J.S.A. 30:4- 27.32(c)(1). That statute provides that a person can be conditionally discharged when a “court finds that the person will not be likely to engage in acts of sexual violence because the person is amenable to and highly likely to comply with a plan to facilitate the person’s adjustment and reintegration into the community[.]” Ibid. Our Supreme Court has described that standard as the “other side of [the] coin” to the third prong of the sexually-violent-predator test. W.Z., 173 N.J. at 130.
Once conditionally discharged, a person may be re-committed under the procedures outlined in subsection 27.32(c)(3) of the SVPA:
A designated staff member on the person’s treatment team shall notify the court if the person fails to meet the conditions of the discharge plan, and the court shall issue an order directing that the person be taken to a facility designated for the custody, care and treatment of sexually violent predators for an assessment. The court shall determine, in conjunction with the findings of the assessment, if the person needs to be returned to custody and, if so, the person shall be returned to the designated facility for the custody, care and treatment of sexually violent predators. The court shall hold a hearing within 20 days of the day the person was returned to custody to determine if the order of conditional discharge should be vacated.
Certain due process protections apply to recommitment hearings. E.D.,
183 N.J. at 548. In that regard, “the person must be given written notice of each alleged violation sufficiently in advance of the court proceeding to provide a reasonable opportunity to prepare a defense.” Ibid. As already noted, at the recommitment hearing, “the State must establish by clear and convincing evidence that the committee is highly likely not to control his or her sexual violent behavior and will reoffend.” Id. at 551.
“The scope of appellate review of a commitment determination is extremely narrow.” R.F., 217 N.J. at 174 (quoting In re D.C., 146 N.J. 31, 58
(1996)). “The judges who hear SVPA cases generally are ‘specialists’ and ‘their expertise in the subject’ is entitled to ‘special deference.'” Ibid. (quoting In re Civil Commitment of T.J.N., 390 N.J. Super. 218, 226 (App. Div. 2007)). When a trial judge’s findings are supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record, they should not be disturbed. Id. at 175 (citing State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 162 (1964)).
Here, there was substantial credible evidence supporting each of the trial judge’s findings that appellant should be recommitted. There were no disputes concerning the first two prongs of the test. Appellant had been previously convicted of a sexually violent offense. All three experts who testified at the recommitment hearing agreed that appellant suffered from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that predisposed him towards sexual violence. Accordingly, the principal contention at the recommitment hearing was whether the State presented clear and convincing evidence that appellant is highly likely not to control his sexually violent behavior and will reoffend.
As noted earlier, the trial court relied on the expert testimony of Dr. Roquet and Dr. Goldwaser and found that it was highly likely that appellant would not control his sexually violent behavior if he was released. In that regard, the trial court’s finding is supported by evidence in the record and we
discern no basis to disturb that finding. See R.F., 217 N.J. at 174 (explaining that appellate courts give deference to trial judges concerning the third prong of the civil commitment test).