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In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of E.C.

August 13, 2012


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-014-99.

Per curiam.


Argued August 6, 2012

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and St. John.

Appellant E.C. appeals from a judgment entered on January 10, 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. Following our review of the record on appeal, 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 E.C. has committed numerous offenses, which qualify as "sexually violent offenses."

N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26. He is now fifty-nine years old and suffers from hepatitis B and C, an infectious sexually transmitted disease; hypertension; diabetes; and a combination of arthritis and osteoporosis.

E.C. has a longstanding pattern of sexually violent and other criminal offenses. Throughout the mid-1970s and early 1980s, E.C. was found guilty of raping an eighteen-year-old woman at knifepoint; committing lewd acts and carnal indecency under violent conditions with a female telephone installer; raping and tying up a mother of two children in her home after threatening to genitally penetrate her one-year-old daughter if she did not cooperate; sexually assaulting a woman that he had lured into his home while he was on parole; escaping from the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center (ADTC), and sexually assaulting the wife of an ADTC employee, while he was a fugitive. As to the last offense, E.C. pled guilty to burglary and aggravated criminal sexual contact and was sentenced to serve ten years in State prison. In 1984, while incarcerated for these offenses, E.C. induced the fifteen-year-old daughter of his former girlfriend, via letters sent from prison, to send him nude photographs of herself in ...

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