On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, SVP-497-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes and Graves.
A.G. appeals from a corrected judgment entered on May 12, 2009, committing him to the Special Treatment Unit, a facility for the custody, care, and treatment of sexually violent predators under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38. We affirm. The SVPA's definition of "sexually violent predator" includes an individual "who has been convicted . . . of a sexually violent offense . . . and 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.
Courts are authorized to order the involuntary civil commitment of an individual under the SVPA when the State has proven "by clear and convincing evidence that the person needs continued involuntary commitment as a sexually violent predator." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.32(a). The Court has explained the standard for involuntary commitment under the SVPA as follows:
To be committed under the SVPA an individual must be proven to be a threat to the health and safety of others because of the likelihood of his or her engaging in sexually violent acts. . . . [T]he State must prove that threat 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.
Those findings . . . require an assessment of the reasonably foreseeable future. No more specific finding concerning precisely when an individual will recidivate need be made by the trial court. Commitment is based on the individual's danger to self and others because of his or her present serious difficulty with control over dangerous sexual behavior.
The scope of appellate review of a trial court's decision in a commitment proceeding has been described as "extremely narrow, with the utmost deference accorded the reviewing judge's determination as to the appropriate accommodation of the competing interests of individual liberty and societal safety in the particular case." State v. Fields, 77 N.J. 282, 311 (1978).
The trial court's determination may only be modified "where the record reveals a clear abuse of discretion." In re Civil Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55, 63 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A reviewing court must be mindful that the SVPA was enacted "to afford protection to society from those sexually violent predators who pose a danger as a result of a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes them likely to engage in repeated acts of predatory sexual violence." In re Civil Commitment of E.D., 353 N.J. Super. 450, 456 (App. Div. 2002).
On September 8, 1997, when he was twenty-nine years old, A.G. pled guilty to third-degree endangering the welfare of a nine-year old girl in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4(a). Defendant was sentenced to a three-year prison term and community supervision for life.
Following his release from prison, A.G. was charged with sexually abusing a nine-year old girl. On April 23, 2001, A.G. pled guilty to first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1), and second-degree sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14- 2(b). A subsequent evaluation by the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center (ADTC) provided the following background information:
The victim reported multiple incidents of sexual abuse, that included [A.G.] touching her vagina in a sexual manner and also having to masturbate him while he watched pornographic movies. This progressed to incidents of attempted sexual intercourse/sexual intercourse. [A.G.] threatened the victim not to tell anyone, but she eventually told her stepmother and authorities were contacted. When he was arrested, [A.G.] initially denied any sexual contact with the victim, but ...