On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, SVP-282-02.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Winkelstein and Fuentes.
This is an appeal from an order issued by the trial court under the Sexually Violent Predator Act, N.J.S.A. 20:4-27.24 to -27.38, committing W.E.C. to the Special Treatment Unit (STU). W.E.C. was first involuntarily committed on April 22, 2003. On appeal from this initial commitment order, we affirmed in an unpublished opinion dated April 21, 2005. In re Civil Commitment of W.E.C., No. A-5115-02 (App. Div. April 21, 2005).
W.E.C.'s predicate offense involved a conviction for second-degree sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b). He pled guilty pursuant to a negotiated agreement through which the State agreed to recommend a sentence within the third-degree range. The victim of this crime was a ten-year-old girl. W.E.C. knew the child from church. In his allocution, W.E.C. admitted to squeezing the victim's breasts and touching her buttocks and vagina. He was sentenced to a four-year term of imprisonment, which he served at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center.
At the review hearing on August 9, 2006, the parties agreed to waive the presentation of testimonial evidence, and submit on the papers filed with the court. Judge Perretti properly informed W.E.C. that he was entitled to have witnesses produced and cross-examined. We are satisfied that the record reflects that W.E.C. made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary decision to waive that right. See N.J. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. J.Y., 352 N.J. Super. 245, 266 (App. Div. 2002).
Based on the exhibits, specifically a report by Dr. Stanley Robert Kern, and substantial treatment records, the court found that the State proved, by clear and convincing evidence, that W.E.C. should continue to be committed for further treatment. It must be emphasized that W.E.C. refused to be interviewed by Dr. Kern; thus the doctor's evaluation was based on the available treatment record. The record shows that W.E.C. refused to admit that he had been involved in any crimes, despite his previous admission supporting his conviction. He alleged that he went along with the guilty plea because he was homeless, and needed a place to stay.
Confronted with this evidence, Judge Perretti found that W.E.C. has made little to no progress during treatment. He is a diagnosed pedophile, sexually attracted to females, who continues to deny his sex offenses. He also has a personality disorder with anti-social traits. The court found that he has serious difficulty controlling his behavior and it is highly likely that he will re-offend.
The standard governing our review of the trial court's commitment decision is well-settled. We must give the trial court's decision the utmost deference; the court's decision can only be modified where the record reveals a clear abuse of discretion. In re Civil Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55, 63 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003). Here, we are satisfied that Judge Perretti's findings and conclusions are amply supported by the record. We thus affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Perretti in her oral opinion delivered from the bench on August 9, 2006.
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