On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-21-99.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 26, 2007
Before Judges Lisa and Lihotz.
T.W.C. appeals from an order entered on January 31, 2007, 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. T.W.C. argues that the trial judge erred in continuing his commitment because the State failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he was subject to continued commitment as a sexually violent predator. We 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.), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003).
T.W.C., who is now age fifty-seven, was temporarily committed to the STU after his discharge from the Adult Diagnostic Treatment Center (ADTC) on October 29, 1999. A judgment of commitment was entered on June 25, 2001 and his status has been reviewed annually, thereafter.
T.W.C.'s extensive criminal history spanning over eighteen years consists of thirty-one arrests. In our review of a prior order of continued commitment, we related that [f]rom the age of 34 on, [T.W.C.] was consistently and continually arrested and re-arrested for offenses charged as lewdness. He was invariably sentenced to a probationary term, and while on probation ...