On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, SVP-03-99.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Reisner and Sapp-Peterson.
R.D. appeals from a June 25, 2008 order continuing his commitment to the Special Treatment Unit (STU), with a future review date of April 14, 2009, pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38.*fn1 We affirm, substantially for the reasons stated by Judge Freedman in his comprehensive oral opinion placed on the record on June 24, 2008.
An involuntary civil commitment can follow service of a sentence, or other criminal disposition, when the offender "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.
[T]he State must prove that threat [to the health and safety of others because of the likelihood of his or her engaging in sexually violent acts] 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. [In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 132 (2002).]
The court must address "his or her present serious difficulty with control," and the State must establish that it is highly likely that the committee will reoffend by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at 132-34. See also In the Matter of the Commitment of J.H.M., 367 N.J. Super. 599, 610-11 (App. Div. 2003), certif. denied, 179 N.J. 312 (2004). After thoroughly reviewing the record, we are satisfied that the State has met its burden in this case.
R.D. was convicted of rape in 1969. He was paroled from the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center (ADTC) in August 1978. However, despite his years of apparently successful treatment at the ADTC, he committed two more rapes less than a year after his release. After serving an additional nineteen years for armed rape, robbery and threat to kill, he was committed to the STU in October 1999.*fn2 While at the STU, R.D. had a history of refusing treatment until 2000, and had multiple institutional infractions including actual or threatened assaults on corrections officers. We affirmed R.D.'s continued commitment to the STU following a hearing in 2002. In re Civil Commitment of R.L.D., Docket No. A-1588-02 (App. Div. Nov. 18, 2005).
Prior to the May and June 2008 hearings giving rise to the current appeal, R.D. was evaluated by Dr. Pogos Voskanian. He initially refused to speak to Dr. Voskanian in April 2008 but agreed to be interviewed in May 2008. R.D. was also evaluated by his own expert, Dr. Jeffrey Singer. He refused to appear before the Treatment Progress Review Committee at the STU. At Judge Freedman's direction, the State also presented testimony from one of R.D.'s treating psychologists.*fn3
According to Dr. Ronald Gonzalez, R.D. had been participating since November 2007 in a treatment group run by Dr. Gonzalez. The first five months in this process group were spent "primarily rapport building" by allowing R.D. to discuss his treatment history and to let him vent about "perceived injustices" in the institution. Dr. Gonzalez testified that in the past month prior to the hearing, R.D. had begun to make progress. He had taken the floor four times in April 2008, and had discussed two of his sex crimes, as well as other significant issues. In that month, R.D. had also begun to "[get] away from the . . . victim-of-the-system type of issues" and focus "on what he needs to discuss in group." Dr. Gonzalez testified that R.D. was currently in Phase-2 of his ...