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In re Civil Commitment of R.L.

October 31, 2007

IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF R.L. SVP-327-03


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-327-03.

Per curiam.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued September 26, 2007

Before Judges Lisa and Lihotz.

R.L. appeals from an order continuing his involuntary civil commitment to the Special Treatment Unit (STU), the secure custodial facility designated for the treatment of persons in need of commitment as a sexually violent predator under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38. The appeal was presented without briefs by agreement of the parties and with the permission of the court. R.L. argues that the trial judge's conclusion to continue his civil commitment was against the weight of the evidence. We disagree and affirm.

The SVPA defines a "sexually 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 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).]

Our review of a trial court's commitment decision is "extremely narrow," as that determination is given "'utmost deference' and modified only where the record reveals a clear abuse of discretion." In re Commitment of J.P., 339 N.J. Super. 443, 459 (App. Div. 2001) (quoting State v. Fields, 77 N.J. 282, 311 (1978); see also In re Civil Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55, 63 (App. Div. 2003), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003).

The facts regarding R.L.'s criminal history are taken from our prior opinion affirming the initial December 5, 2003 judgment of civil commitment. On March 3, 1993, R.L., then age thirty-four, pled guilty to aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a, and sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2b. R.L. admitted that he sodomized his son and fondled one of his son's playmates. The victims were ages six and four. These were not R.L.'s first convictions. At age eighteen, R.L. pled guilty to two downgraded charges of debauching the morals of a minor; the victims were ages nine and thirteen. He also had pled guilty to harassment, a downgrade of the original charge of promoting prostitution. And as a youth, he was caught, after he forced a ten-year-old to engage in fellatio, but was never charged. R.L. admitted involvement in juvenile adjudications that included possession of a controlled dangerous substance (marijuana), incorrigibility, truancy, and falsely reporting a fire by pulling a fire alarm. During an evaluation prior to sentencing, R.L. acknowledged that he suffered from substance abuse and reported that he had been sexually involved with "hundreds" of boys between the ages of seven and sixteen. He agreed that he was in need of special treatment.

The sentencing judge concluded R.L.'s conduct was "characterized by a pattern of repetitive, compulsive behavior" and that he was amenable to treatment. R.L. was sentenced to a term of incarceration of seventeen years, with a minimum parole ineligibility period of five years, to be served at the Adult Diagnostic Treatment Center (ADTC) pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:47-3.

Prior to R.L.'s anticipated release from the ADTC, the State petitioned for his civil commitment pursuant to the SVPA. Civil commitment was ordered, after a hearing, on December 5, 2003. Although the initial commitment order contained a provision for a review hearing on November 4, 2004, no further review occurred because R.L. signed a waiver of further review pending appeal. We affirmed the judgment of civil ...


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