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In re Civil Commitment of C.R.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 9, 2013



Argued May 29, 2013

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-467-07.

Patrick Madden, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney).

Justin Conforti, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent (Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney).

Before Judges Messano and Lihotz.


C.R. is a resident of the Special Treatment Unit (STU), the secure custodial facility designated for the treatment of persons in need of involuntary civil commitment pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (the SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38. He appeals from the order of June 19, 2012, that continued his commitment after a hearing, and set May 29, 2013, as the date for his next annual review.[1] C.R. argues that the State failed to present sufficient evidence demonstrating he continues to "suffer[] from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes [him] 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. In particular, C.R. contends that, because he presents a low risk to reoffend, and, because his cognitive limitations hinder any further treatment while he remains confined at the STU, it was appropriate to commence discharge planning. After due consideration of the record and applicable legal standards, we affirm.

C.R. was temporarily committed immediately prior to his release from the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Avenel by order of July 27, 2007. Following an initial commitment hearing, C.R. was committed to the STU by order of June 20, 2008. We affirmed that initial commitment. See In re Civil Commitment of C.R., No. A-5431-07 (App. Div. Dec. 8, 2011).

The hearing that resulted in the order under review occurred June 12, 2012, before Judge Philip M. Freedman. Counsel for C.R. stipulated to the admission of his treatment records and waived cross-examination of any members of the STU's Treatment Progress Review Committee (TPRC). In his oral decision that followed the hearing, Judge Freedman specifically alluded to the TPRC report, which was critical to his reasoning.

C.R. was in "Phase 2" treatment, "which is the introductory phase of treatment." Judge Freedman noted that in the opinion of the TPRC, C.R. had "not yet demonstrated command over his assault cycle, developed a relapse prevention plan, or an understanding of relapse prevention concepts."

Doctor Alberto Goldwaser, a psychiatrist, testified regarding the June 6, 2012, report of his interview of C.R., and the conclusions he reached therein. Goldwaser noted that C.R. "attends the meetings but does not participate actively." Goldwaser explained that during one session, C.R. "physically demonstrated how he grabbed [his victim] around the throat and squeezed tight[ly]." Goldwaser opined this demonstrated that C.R.'s fantasies "are very powerful, " and the physical demonstration of his crime showed C.R.'s "urge to act." Goldwaser's diagnoses were as follows: Paraphilia NOS, hebephilia, females, with sadistic elements"; "cocaine . . . and alcohol dependence"; and "mild mental retardation."

Although C.R.'s score on the Static-99R test was one, evincing a low risk for re-offense, Goldwaser opined that C.R. was "highly likely to reoffend." He explained that because C.R. "[did not] have a lot of [criminal] charges, " the Static-99R test resulted in "a low score." However, Goldwaser reiterated that C.R. has "only [a] rudimentary understanding of his deviant cycle."

On cross-examination, Goldwaser acknowledged C.R.'s "cognitive limitations, " explaining these were "significant, " but "not the only aspect" of C.R.'s inability to make progress in treatment. Goldwaser testified that, for example, C.R. stated he refused to take classes because he "feels not motivated and interested."

In his comprehensive oral opinion, Judge Freedman credited the testimony of Goldwaser and the expert whose reports were part of the TPRC records. He concluded the State had proven by clear and convincing evidence the standards necessary for C.R.'s continued commitment under the SVPA. He entered the order under review.

We begin by noting that the scope of appellate review of a trial court's decision in a commitment proceeding 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). The trial "judge's determination should be accorded 'utmost deference' and modified only where the record reveals a clear abuse of discretion, " In re Commitment of J.P., 339 N.J.Super. 443, 459 (App. Div. 2001) (quoting State v. Fields, 77 N.J. 282, 311 (1978)), "or lack of evidence to support it." In re Civil Commitment of T.J.N., 390 N.J.Super. 218, 225 (App. Div. 2007) (citation omitted). "Moreover, the committing judges under the SVPA are specialists in the area, and we must give their expertise in the subject special deference." Id. at 226 (citation omitted).

The Court has explained:

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.
[In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 132 (2002).]

Based upon the record evidence, Judge Freedman's conclusion that the State had met these standards by clear and convincing evidence is unassailable, and we affirm for the reasons he expressed. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(A).

As to C.R.'s argument that conditional discharge planning is now appropriate, we must note that conditional discharge is predicated upon the court finding that "the person will not be likely to engage in acts of sexual violence because the person is amenable to and highly likely to comply with a plan to facilitate the person's adjustment and reintegration into the community so as to render involuntary commitment as a sexually violent predator unnecessary." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.32c(1). "If the difficult commitment burden is satisfied, release should follow only 'when a court is convinced that [the committee] will not have serious difficulty controlling sexually violent behavior and will be highly likely to comply with the plan for safe reintegration into the community.'" T.J.N., supra, 390 N.J.S.A. at 226 (quoting W.Z., supra, 173 N.J. at 130). There is nothing in the record to support C.R.'s argument in this regard. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).


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