May 24, 2013
IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF J.Q., SVP-541-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 21, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-541-09.
Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant J.Q. (Michelle N. Cox, Designated Counsel, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent State of New Jersey (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Cindi S. Collins, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Before Judges Reisner and Harris.
J.Q. appeals from the Law Division's April 12, 2010 order committing him to the Special Treatment Unit (STU), a secure custodial facility for the treatment of persons in need of involuntary civil commitment, as a sexually violent predator pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38. He contends the State failed to sustain its burden of proof because it relied mainly on J.Q.'s past crimes, ignoring his alleged present ability to control sexually harmful behavior. Furthermore, he argues that the court erred in crediting the State's expert witnesses because their testimony was based largely upon past criminal behavior and failed to "adequately consider the mitigating effect of J.Q.'s six years of treatment [in the Adult Diagnostic Treatment Center (ADTC) in Avenel.]" We disagree and affirm.
J.Q. is a forty-five-year-old male with a history of repeated sexual assaults. On October 10, 1997, he pled guilty to second-degree sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b), involving his nineteen-year-old former paramour, and was thereafter sentenced to a four-year prison term. Five years later, in November 2002, J.Q. pled guilty to first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a), involving a then-fourteen-year-old victim. J.Q.'s plea allocution indicated that he committed the crime at a time when the victim was between five and ten years old. In May 2003, J.Q. was sentenced to a twelve-year prison term with a six-year period of parole ineligibility.
Prior to the expiration of the sentence, the State moved civilly to commit J.Q. as a sexually violent predator. The commitment hearing was conducted on April 12, 2010. At the hearing, the State offered documentary evidence and presented the testimony of Alberto M. Goldwaser, M.D., a psychiatrist, and Doreen Stanzione, Ed.D., a clinical psychologist. J.Q. testified in his own defense.
Based on the undisputed expert proofs, the trial judge found J.Q. to be a sexually violent predator by clear and convincing evidence. The judge declared that based on "[t]wo very credible experts, " J.Q.'s "mental abnormalities or personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, pedophilia" can only be mitigated by further treatment. Additionally, the judge found that J.Q.'s testimony was not credible
in any way, shape or form. It's obvious that he minimized a lot of the offenses that he's had. It's hard for him to understand what is true and what is not true. And I do not find him to be [a] credible witness.
Accordingly, the judge entered an order committing J.Q. to the STU. This appeal followed.
To warrant commitment of an individual under the SVPA, the State must prove "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." In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 132 (2002). The court must consider the individual's "present serious difficulty with control over dangerous sexual behavior, " and the State must establish "by clear and convincing evidence . . . that it is highly likely that the person . . . will reoffend." Id. at 132-34.
On this appeal, our review of the Law Division's order is exceedingly limited. In re Commitment of J.P., 339 N.J.Super. 443, 459 (App. Div. 2001) ("The scope of appellate review of a trial court's decision in a commitment proceeding is extremely narrow."). We will disturb that decision only where there was a clear abuse of discretion, and it is our "responsibility to canvass the record, inclusive of the expert testimony, to determine whether the findings made by the trial judge were clearly erroneous." In re Civil Commitment of W.X.C., 407 N.J.Super. 619, 630 (App. Div. 2009), aff'd, 204 N.J. 179 (2010), cert. denied, __U.S.__ 131 S.Ct. 1702, 179 L.Ed.2d 635 (2011). In light of the court's expertise in handling these cases, we "must give the 'utmost deference' to [its] determination of the appropriate balancing of societal interest and individual liberty." In re Civil Commitment of J.M.B., 395 N.J.Super. 69, 89-90 (App. Div. 2007), aff'd, 197 N.J. 563, cert. denied, 558 U.S. 999, 130 S.Ct. 509, 175 L.Ed.2d 361 (2009).
Given our deferential standard of review, we find no basis for reversal. Both of the State's experts were aware of J.Q.'s incarceration in the ADTC, and they knew of the treatment he received there. Nevertheless, they each diagnosed J.Q. with pedophilia and were unconvinced that the effects of J.Q.'s treatment had sufficiently mitigated his risk to sexually re-offend. The experts explained how they each reached their conclusions, and we discern no improper consideration of J.Q.'s criminal history in the experts' derivation of their opinions.
The majority of J.Q.'s appellate arguments essentially challenge the weight of the evidence that was arrayed against him. He criticizes the sufficiency of the diagnoses of pedophilia and antisocial personality disorder, but offers nothing by way of expert methodology to support his lay estimation that the experts' opinions were flawed. He further takes issue with the experts' minimization of his purported treatment gains. The trial judge heard the direct and cross-examinations of both experts, and concluded, as do we, that sufficient credible evidence exists in the record to support the expert opinions that were offered at trial and relied upon the trial judge. Moreover, the judge favorably commented upon the experts' opinions as being "very credible, " a finding that we are loathe to disturb.