On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. 124-00.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 17, 2008
Before Judges Fisher and C.L. Miniman.
G.I.D. appeals from an order entered on January 31, 2008, which continued his commitment to the Special Treatment Unit pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.35. We affirm.
A criminal defendant, who has been convicted of a predicate offense to the SVPA, may be subject to an involuntary civil commitment when suffering 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. Annual review hearings are required to determine whether the person remains in need of commitment despite treatment. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.35; N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.32(a).
To warrant commitment of an individual or the continuation of a prior commitment, the State must prove 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 Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 132 (2002). See also In re Commitment of G.G.N., 372 N.J. Super. 42, 46-47 (App. Div. 2004). In that setting, 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 the person . . . will reoffend." W.Z., supra, 173 N.J. at 132-34. 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). The State met its burden here.
The record reveals that G.I.D. is now forty-four years old. In 1985, G.I.D. was convicted of aggravated sexual assault, which included the use of a deadly weapon, as a result of having raped a twenty-five year old woman at knifepoint. He was sentenced to a seventeen-year prison term and paroled in 1989. In 1991, G.I.D. pled guilty to one count of aggravated sexual assault and one count of endangering the welfare of a child; that victim was a thirteen-year old girl, the relative of G.I.D's paramour. G.I.D. was sentenced to a fifteen-year prison term, with a five-year period of parole ineligibility.
The State first petitioned for and obtained G.I.D.'s civil commitment in 2000. Orders continuing his commitment were entered on February 1, 2001, June 24, 2002, and April 14, 2003; G.I.D. appealed the last of these. We affirmed by way of an unpublished opinion filed on April 14, 2004. In re Commitment of G.I.D., No. A-5264-02T2. His commitment was again continued by way of an order entered on September 19, 2005. G.I.D. appealed this order, and we affirmed by way of an unpublished opinion filed on February 15, 2006. In re Commitment of G.I.D., No. A-0672-05T2.
The present appeal concerns the entry of an order on January 31, 2008, which continued G.I.D.'s commitment. In this appeal, G.I.D. argues that the judge's findings were against the weight of the evidence. We disagree.
At a four-day hearing, the judge heard testimony from the State's witnesses, Dr. Doreen Stanzione and Dr. Evan Feibusch, and from G.I.D.'s expert, Dr. Jeffrey C. Singer. In his oral decision, Judge Freedman found the State's witnesses to be credible, provided a very thorough description of the evidence he found persuasive, and concluded that although G.I.D. has made some progress in treatment, he continues to suffer from abnormal mental conditions that predispose him to commit sexually violent acts.
In considering the argument posed in this appeal, our scope of review is narrow. We defer to a trial judge's findings when they are supported by evidence in the record, and we "give utmost deference to the commitment finding and reverse only for a 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); see also In re Civil Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55, 63 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003); In re Civil Commitment of J.P., 339 N.J. Super. 443, 459 (App. Div. 2001). After carefully reviewing the record on appeal, we find no abuse of discretion. The record more than adequately supports the judge's determination that G.I.D. ...