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In the Matter of the

August 13, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-378-04.

Per curiam.



Argued August 6, 2012

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and St. John.

Appellant S.E.J. appeals from a judgment entered on February 8, 2012, continuing his civil commitment to the Special Treatment Unit (STU), 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). Our Supreme 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. [In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 132-33 (2002).]

Our 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 legislative intent in adopting the SVPA was "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), certif. denied, 196 N.J. 86 (2008).

The record reveals that S.E.J. has committed numerous offenses, some of which qualify as "sexually violent offenses." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26. He is now sixty years old.

S.E.J.'s most recent criminal conviction occurred in 1987, arising from an incident where he entered the residence of a twenty-two-year-old victim, C.E., and after robbing her, he vaginally and digitally raped her at gun point prior to ejaculating into her mouth and forcing her to then wash herself of his DNA.

S.E.J. proceeded to lock C.E. in the master bedroom, along with her mother and nephew, before he fled. Following a jury trial, S.E.J. was convicted of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a); second-degree burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2; three counts of third-degree criminal restraint, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2; third-degree terroristic threats, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-3(a); and second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a). He was sentenced to an aggregate term of twenty-five years in prison.

While incarcerated, S.E.J. was also convicted in August 1990 of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3(b), based on an allegation that in June 1985, he exposed himself to fifty-one-year-old J.Z. He was sentenced to time-served. In addition to these offenses, S.E.J. has an extensive criminal history, and was suspected of committing six other rapes during the time he was at large. S.E.J.'s criminal history ...

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