On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-491-08.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Parrillo, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo, Grall and Alvarez.
The opinion of the court was delivered by PARRILLO, P.J.A.D.
In this appeal from a Law Division order committing defendant D.Y. to the Special Treatment Unit (STU) pursuant to the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38, the essential issue is whether there is a constitutional right to self-representation at the commitment hearing. Defendant contends the trial court's denial of his motion for self-representation violated his Sixth Amendment and due process rights. For reasons that follow, we find no deprivation of constitutional dimension and therefore affirm the commitment order.
Defendant is a fifty-two-year-old male with a long history of repeated
pedophiliac sexual assaults. On June 24, 1994, he pled guilty to the
predicate offense of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A.
2C:14-2(a), involving the sustained sexual abuse of a young boy over a
three-year period, and was thereafter sentenced to an eighteen-year
prison term with a six-year period of parole ineligibility.*fn1
Upon expiration of the sentence, on May 27, 2008, the State
moved to civilly commit defendant as a sexually violent predator and
presented clinical certificates of two psychiatrists, who diagnosed
him with pedophilia (males) and anti-social personality disorder.
Based thereon, an order of temporary commitment to the STU was issued
on June 4, 2008.
The commitment hearing commenced on June 23, 2008 and, for reasons to be explained, continued and concluded on June 8, 2009. At the hearing, the State's expert, Dr. Howard Gilman, a psychiatrist, testified that he diagnosed defendant with pedophilia, sexually attracted to boys, and personality disorder NOS with both paranoid and narcissistic features. The expert opined that these conditions predispose defendant to commit acts of sexual violence and cause him difficulty in controlling such behavior. According to Gilman, defendant's risk of sexually offending in the future is "highly likely," an opinion confirmed by defendant's elevated score on Static-99 testing. Defendant's high risk of sexually reoffending is also indicated by his obstinate resistance to treatment over the years, denial of sexual deviation, and the fact that he committed the predicate offenses while on probation for another crime.
Based on the undisputed expert proofs, the trial judge found defendant to be a sexually violent predator by clear and convincing evidence. Accordingly, the judge entered an order committing defendant to the STU and scheduled a review for June 1, 2010.
The nearly one-year interregnum between the start and conclusion of the commitment hearing had been occasioned by questions raised as to defendant's competency. At the initial hearing on June 23, 2008, after being questioned about refusing an interview with the State's expert, defendant replied: "No . . . I don't want a hearing, either. . . . Just sign the commitment papers." Defendant then stated that he wanted to leave and that he had recently fired his attorney. When the court informed defendant that the statute required he be represented, defendant commented "[w]hy, this is nothing but a joke anyhow. Just go ahead and commit me. . . . Just sign the commitment papers and be done with it." When once again reminded of the statutory requirement during one of his repeated interruptions, defendant reiterated "[h]e's not my counsel[,]" and that such an appointment "is illegal according to the United States Constitution[,] [because] [w]e're allowed to represent ourselves no matter what the State says, [i]t shows how . . . corrupt the State is, and how corrupt the Court is."
After Gilman was unable to render an opinion as to defendant's competency based on available information, the court continued the proceedings and ordered a psychiatric evaluation of defendant. Dr. Peter Paul conducted the examination on July 28, 2008 and concluded that defendant was competent to participate in his commitment hearing based on the criteria for competency to stand trial in N.J.S.A. 2C:4-4. After a number of adjournments requested by defense counsel, the hearing proceeded to conclusion on June 8, 2009. Defendant absented himself from the hearing and counsel presented no witnesses on his behalf.
At the start of the hearing that day, defense counsel informed the court that defendant wished to proceed pro se and asked that this request be allowed. The judge denied the application, noting instead that had defendant attended the hearing, he would have been given the opportunity to participate by making statements and asking ...