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In re Civil Commitment of N.H.Y.

January 16, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, SVP-37-00.

Per curiam.



Argued December 8, 2008

Before Judges Reisner and Sapp-Peterson.

N.H.Y. is civilly committed to the Special Treatment Unit (STU), which is the secure custodial facility designated for the treatment of persons in need of commitment under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38. He appeals from an order of July 25, 2008, that continues his commitment after the annual review required by N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.35. After reviewing the record and applicable law, we affirm substantially for the reasons outlined in Judge Serena Perretti's comprehensive oral opinion of July 25, 2008.

A person who has committed a sexually violent offense may be confined pursuant to the SVPA only if he or she suffers from an abnormality that causes serious difficulty in controlling sexually violent behavior, such that commission of a sexually violent offense is highly likely without confinement "in a secure facility for control, care and treatment." In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 120, 132, aff'd, 173 N.J. 134 (2002); N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26. Annual review hearings to determine whether the person remains in need of commitment, despite treatment, are required. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.35; N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.32(a).*fn1

An order of continued commitment under the SVPA, like an initial order, must be based on "clear and convincing evidence that an individual who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense, suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder, and presently has serious difficulty controlling harmful sexually violent behavior such that it is highly likely the individual will re-offend" if not committed to the STU. In re Commitment of G.G.N., 372 N.J. Super. 42, 46-47 (App. Div. 2004); see W.Z., supra, 173 N.J. at 132; In re Commitment of J.J.F., 365 N.J. Super. 486, 496-501 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 179 N.J. 373 (2004); 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 E.D., 353 N.J. Super. 450, 455-56 (App. Div. 2002); N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26; N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.32; N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.35. "[O]nce the legal standard for commitment no longer exists, the committee is subject to release." E.D., supra, 353 N.J. Super. at 455; see also W.Z., supra, 173 N.J. at 133; N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.32; N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.35.

Our review of a commitment pursuant to the SVPA is extremely narrow. V.A., supra, 357 N.J. Super. at 63. The judge's determination is given the "'utmost deference' and modified only where the record reveals a clear abuse of discretion." Ibid. (quoting In re Civil Commitment of J.P., 339 N.J. Super. 443, 459 (App. Div. 2001)). The record shows no such abuse with respect to the order under review. This order of continued commitment is adequately supported by the record and consistent with controlling legal principles. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(A). We add the following comments.

On January 19, 2000, the State filed a petition for the involuntary civil commitment of N.H.Y. pursuant to the SPVA. At that time, the State also sought his temporary commitment to the STU. The predicate offense for which the temporary commitment was sought stemmed from his July 3, 1985 conviction for one count of criminal sexual contact of a female and one count of aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(4), at knifepoint upon another fifteen-year-old female. He was sentenced to a twenty-year prison term. In July 2000, following a hearing, the court entered judgment declaring that N.H.Y. was a sexually violent predator in need of involuntary commitment to a secure facility for control, care and treatment. Orders continuing his commitment were entered on June 28, 2001, February 27, 2002, and September 12, 2002. The September 12 order directed the STU to implement a Phase Five transitional program for N.H.Y. and to present the matter to the court for further review in one month. On October 16, 2002, the court continued his involuntary commitment to the STU but directed that the STU, with the assistance of "representatives from the Department of Corrections (DOC)[,]" enter him "into an outpatient treatment group, one day a week, at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center [(ADTC).]" Thereafter, additional orders continuing his treatment were entered on September 4, 2003 and March 21, 2005.

N.H.Y. appealed the latter two orders. In an unpublished opinion, we affirmed the September 4, 2003 order but remanded the matter for the court's consideration of whether it should order the STU to gradually reduce the restrictions placed upon N.H.Y. in preparation for his potential discharge. In re the Civil Commitment of N.H.Y., No. A-877-03T2 (App. Div. December 30, 2004). Upon remand, the court denied N.H.Y.'s application for reduced restrictions and we affirmed the decision on appeal. In re the Civil Commitment of N.H.Y., No. A-4286-04T2 (App. Div. November 4, 2005). Additional orders continuing his commitment were subsequently entered on August 8, 2006, August 10, 2007, and July 25, 2008.

The hearing that preceded entry of the July 25, 2008 order under appeal was held the same day. Dr. Dean DeCrisce, a psychiatrist, and Dr. Jamie Canataro, a psychologist, testified for the State. No witnesses testified on behalf of N.H.Y. The parties stipulated to both doctors' qualifications and, subject to one correction in Dr. Canataro's report and certain hearsay objections, the reports of both doctors were also admitted into evidence without further objection.

The primary basis for Dr. DeCrisce's testimony was his own report dated July 24, 2008, which was based upon seventeen sources of information, including treatment records, psychiatric and psychological evaluations, an undated adult presentence report, the judgment of conviction, and Dr. DeCrisce's 130-minute interview with N.H.Y. He testified that the seventeen sources of information are the types of information he considers in gaining insight into the committee but that he forms his own independent opinion.

Dr. DeCrisce diagnosed N.H.Y. as suffering, under AXIS*fn2 I, from frotteurism, exhibitionism, and paraphilia. Under AXIS II, he diagnosed N.H.Y. as having an antisocial personality disorder. Dr. DeCrise opined that there was a very high risk that he would re-offend based upon N.H.Y.'s history of multiple sexual victims, "non-contact offenses, stranger victims, violent offenses, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, offenses after prior incarceration, early age of offending behavior, poor premorbid social ...

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