April 29, 2011
IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF T.M.F
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, SVP No. 380-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued April 13, 2011
Before Judges Fisher and Fasciale.
T.M.F. appeals from an order entered on August 2, 2010, 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. 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; see also 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). 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 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 T.M.F. is now fifty-eight years old; he previously committed multiple offenses that rendered him eligible for commitment. In 1984, T.M.F. was convicted in North Carolina of sexually assaulting his fifteen-year old stepdaughter, for which he served a five-year prison term. Undeterred by incarceration, T.M.F. sexually assaulted his thirteen-year old stepdaughter in New Jersey in 1990. In February 1991, while the New Jersey charges were pending, T.M.F. fled to Virginia, where he was arrested and charged with rape and sodomy involving a mildly-retarded seventeen-year old girl. T.M.F. was convicted in Virginia and sentenced to a thirty-year prison term. In 2002, T.M.F. was released to the custody of New Jersey authorities. He pled guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to a three-year term to be served at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center.
In 2005, T.M.F. was civilly committed pursuant to the SVPA based on a finding that he suffers "from a mental abnormality in the form of paraphilia [not otherwise specified] and a personality disorder in the form of a personality disorder [not otherwise specified] with antisocial features as well as alcohol abuse on Axis I." T.M.F. appealed that determination; we affirmed by way of an unpublished opinion. In re Commitment of T.M.F., No. A-2479-05 (App. Div. Feb. 23, 2007). Review hearings occurred on July 27, 2007, August 8, 2008, and July 29, 2009; each time the trial court determined that commitment should continue.
The order in question was entered as a result of a review hearing that occurred on August 2, 2010. At that time, the trial court heard the State's witnesses, Dr. Dean De Crisce and Dr. Christine Zavalis.
T.M.F. did not call any experts; he did testify on his own behalf. T.M.F. acknowledged that he has not "significantly participated in treatment" in the six years he has been a resident of the STU but claimed he has, in fact, been rehabilitated by resorting to the teachings of the Bible. In response to his attorney's request during direct examination that he explain his objection to treatment, T.M.F. said:
Because they are totally against the instructions of the will of God for a man who has repented of all unrighteousness, and come before God and repent for sins, there's no other reason for him to continue to speak of them as though they were because that is not a form of rehabilitation of the mind, body, and spirit[.]
He claimed that he was rehabilitated because he "promised to God that [he] would never cross those lines ever in [his] life again, ever, and that's a promise until the day [he] die[s]."
At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Mulvihill rendered an oral decision in which he explained that he found the State's witnesses credible and their testimony persuasive that T.M.F. suffers from paraphilia not otherwise specified, a personality disorder not otherwise specified, and alcohol abuse. Although the judge found T.M.F. was sincere and credible, he concluded that T.M.F. was mistaken to the extent "he thinks that reliance upon a religious conversion is going to prevent him from sexually reoffending." The judge concluded that "the evidence is overwhelming, uncontroverted, [and] clear and convincing" that T.M.F. has "a mental disorder that does not spontaneously remit, and he's predisposed to sexual violence."
In considering the arguments 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 Commitment of A.E.F., 377 N.J. Super. 473, 493 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 185 N.J. 393 (2005); see also In re Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55, 63 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003); In re 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 determinations that T.M.F. suffers from mental abnormalities that predispose him to commit sexually violent acts, that he has serious difficulty controlling his behavior, and that he is highly likely to reoffend.
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