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In re Civil Commitment of J.P.

May 9, 2007

IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF J.P.


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-405-05.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lihotz, J.T.C. (temporarily assigned).

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Submitted March 20, 2007

Before Judges Kestin, Weissbard, and Lihotz.

J.P. appeals from a November 29, 2005 order requiring his involuntary civil commitment to the Special Treatment Unit (STU), as a sexually violent predator under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38.

The SVPA defines a "[s]exually violent predator" as a person "who has been convicted . . . of a sexually violent offense, . . . and suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility for control, care and treatment." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26. Courts are authorized to order the involuntary civil commitment of an individual under the SVPA when the State has proven "by clear and convincing evidence that the person needs continued involuntary commitment as a sexually violent predator." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.32(a). The Supreme Court has explained the standard for involuntary commitment under the SVPA as follows:

To be committed under the SVPA an individual must be proven to be a threat to the health and safety of others because of the likelihood of his or her engaging in sexually violent acts. . . . [T]he State must prove that threat by demonstrating that the individual has serious difficulty in controlling sexually harmful behavior such that it is highly likely that he or she will not control his or her sexually violent behavior and will reoffend.

Those findings . . . require an assessment of the reasonably foreseeable future. No more specific finding concerning precisely when an individual will recidivate need be made by the trial court. Commitment is based on the individual's danger to self and others because of his or her present serious difficulty with control over dangerous sexual behavior. [In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 132-33 (2002).]

Commitment under the SVPA requires clear and convincing proof "of past sexually violent behavior, a current mental condition, and a demonstrated inability to adequately control one's sexually harmful conduct." State v. Bellamy, 178 N.J. 127, 136 (2003).

The scope of appellate review of a trial court's decision in a commitment proceeding has been described as "extremely narrow, with the utmost deference accorded the [trial] judge's determination as to the appropriate accommodation of the competing interests of individual liberty and societal safety in the particular case." State v. Fields, 77 N.J. 282, 311 (1978). The trial court's determination may be modified "only where the record reveals a clear abuse of discretion" or a clear lack of evidence to support it." In re Civil Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55, 63 (App. Div.) (quoting In re Commitment of J.P., 339 N.J. Super. 443, 459 (App. Div. 2001)), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003).

On appeal, J.P. presents two ...


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