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In re Civil Commitment of M.R.


June 20, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-151-01.

Per curiam.



Argued June 2, 2008

Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez and C. S. Fisher.

M.R. appeals from the November 28, 2007 judgment, which continued his commitment to the Special Treatment Unit (STU) pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38, and set a one-year review date. We affirm.

On February 5, 2001, M.R. was temporarily committed to the STU. He stipulated his commitment on February 23, 2001. The trial court has reviewed and continued the commitment on ten occasions, including stipulations by M.R.

On the most recent order of continuing commitment, the evidence before the court can be summarized as follows. Pogos Voskanian, M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice, not a treating physician, prepared a report. He was the sole witness at the hearing. He diagnosed M.R. with pedophilia, alcohol abuse and personality disorder. Dr. Voskanian concluded that M.R. has a mental abnormality and personality disorder that places M.R. at a high risk of recidivism. Dr. Voskanian opined that continued confinement to the STU was warranted. In reaching this opinion, Dr. Voskanian relied on the reports and notes of health care professionals who treated M.R.

The record also contains the report of the Treatment Program Review Committee (TPRC). One of its members, Rosemarie Vala Steward, Ph.D., a psychologist, wrote a report recommending continued commitment. The report concluded that, "At the present time, M.R. barely meets the criteria for Phase 2 of treatment."

The standard for commitment pursuant to the SVPA requires the State to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, 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." In re Civil Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 132 (2002). See also In re Civil Commitment of G.G.N., 372 N.J. Super. 42, 46-47 (App. Div. 2004). Thus, the court must address the individual's "present serious difficulty with control over dangerous sexual behavior[,]" and the State must establish by clear and convincing evidence "that it is highly likely that he or she . . . will reoffend." W.Z., supra, 173 N.J. at 132-33. See also In re Civil Commitment of J.H.M., 367 N.J. Super. 599, 611 (App. Div. 2003), certif. denied, 179 N.J. 312 (2004).

Our scope of review is narrow. We defer to a trial judge's findings when they are supported by evidence in the record, and "give utmost deference to the commitment finding and reverse only for clear abuse of discretion." In re Civil Commitment of A.E.F., 377 N.J. Super. 473, 493 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 185 N.J. 393 (2005). In re Civil Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55, 63 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003); See also In re Civil Commitment of J.P., 339 N.J. Super. 443, 459 (App. Div. 2001).

Here, judging the proofs against the SVP commitment standard and after a careful review of the record, we conclude that the State has met its burden. We do note that Dr. Voskanian's report was sparse. If his report had contained more independent analysis, rather than a recitation of findings and conclusions by other mental health professionals, it would have been more helpful to this court. As we said in A.E.F.:

[E]xperts at [an SVPA] hearing cannot simply parrot the findings of the doctors who author the clinical certificates, nor are those certificates the type of material that should be relied on pursuant to N.J.R.E. 703, particularly since the certificates are generated for the same purpose as the in-court testimony, i.e., the commitment of the individual in question. [A.E.F., supra, 377 N.J. Super. at 491.]

See also In re Civil Commitment of E.S.T., 371 N.J. Super. 562, 571-75 (App. Div. 2004). Nonetheless, the proofs here as a whole are sufficient. The testimony of Dr. Voskanian is close to, but does not cross, the line set by E.S.T. and A.E.F.



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