On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-161-01.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lihotz and St. John.
Appellant M.C. appeals from the December 14, 2011 order continuing his involuntary civil commitment to the Special Treatment Unit (STU) as a sexually violent predator pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38. M.C. argues the State failed to prove he is highly likely to reoffend, and suggests the record does not support the finding that he currently suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder, which makes him likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined. We disagree and affirm.
These facts were presented by the State during the commitment review hearing. The evidence was uncontroverted.
On January 7, 1998, while on probation for a delinquency adjudication for the sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2, of a six-year-old girl, M.C. was arrested and later convicted of second degree sexual assault, ibid., against a six-year-old boy. M.C. was sentenced to five years imprisonment. On November 9, 1998, the judgment of conviction was amended to add community supervision for life.
On March 28, 2001, prior to the expiration of his criminal sentence, the State moved for M.C.'s civil confinement as a sexually violent predator. The judge accepted M.C.'s stipulation to commitment and ordered M.C.'s confinement at the STU. Thereafter, M.C. stipulated to his commitment on September 25, 2001, March 22, 2002, December 16, 2002, June 28, 2005, September 22, 2006, and September 19, 2008, which resulted in the court's continued commitment.
A September 10, 2009 consent order provided the STU would prepare a comprehensive transition and discharge plan and allow M.C. limited furloughs. Treatment setbacks prevented the preparation of the discharge plan.
Following a December 6, 2011 review hearing, Judge Philip
M. Freedman considered the testimony of the State's expert witnesses and reviewed the submitted documentary evidence, finding the State proved by clear and convincing evidence that M.C. suffers from a mental abnormality and a personality disorder, which predisposes him to engage in acts of sexual violence. Specifically, M.C. has serious impulsivity issues and a lack of adequate relapse prevention techniques, causing him serious difficulty in controlling his sexual urges, such that in the reasonable foreseeable future he would be highly likely to reoffend and engage in acts of sexual violence if released. On December 14, 2011, the judge issued a judgment continuing M.C.'s involuntary civil commitment to the STU. M.C. appealed.
An involuntary civil commitment may follow service of a criminal sentence, 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. "An inability to control one's sexually violent behavior is the very essence of the SVPA." In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 129 (2002). The State bears the burden of proving such a threat to the health and safety of others because of the likelihood of his or her engaging in sexually violent acts exists, "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." Id. at 132. The court must address the offender's "present serious difficulty with control[,]" id. at 128 (internal quotation marks omitted), and must establish by clear and convincing evidence that it is highly likely that the committee will reoffend. See id. at 132-34. Accord In re Civil Commitment of J.H.M., 367 N.J. Super. 599, 607-08 (App. Div. 2003), certif. denied, 179 N.J. 312 (2004). "Put succinctly, '[c]ommitment under the Act is contingent on proof of past sexually violent behavior, a current mental condition, and a demonstrated inability to adequately control one's sexually harmful conduct.'" In re Civil Commitment of J.M.B., 197 N.J. 563, 571 (quoting State v. Bellamy, 178 N.J. 127, 136 (2003)), cert. denied, __ U.S. __ , 130 S. Ct. 509, 175 L. Ed. 2d 361 (2009).
Our review of a trial court's findings regarding a civil commitment under the SVPA is extremely narrow. In re Civil Commitment of V.A., 357 N.J. Super. 55, 63 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003). We modify a judgment of commitment "only where the record reveals a clear abuse of ...