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In re Civil Commitment of W.C.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

August 29, 2013

IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF W.C. SVP-526-09.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 15, 2012.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-526-09.

Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney for appellant (Thomas G. Hand, Designated Counsel, on the brief).

Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Amy Beth Cohn, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Graves and Espinosa.

PER CURIAM.

W.C. appeals from a judgment entered on June 24, 2009, committing him to the Special Treatment Unit, 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). The 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 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 W.Z., 173 N.J. 109

The scope of appellate review of a trial court's decision in a commitment proceeding has been described as "extremely narrow, with the utmost deference accorded to 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 V.A., 357 N.J.Super. 55, 63 (App. Div.) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), certif. denied, 177 N.J. 490 (2003). A reviewing court must be mindful that the SVPA was enacted "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 E.D., 353 N.J.Super. 450, 456 (App. Div. 2002).

On December 23, 1997, when he was forty-eight years old, W.C. pled guilty to first-degree aggravated sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)(1), and second-degree sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b). A report prepared by the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center (ADTC) provided the following background information:

These charges stemmed from the reports by three sisters ranging in age from 4 to 7 years old that [W.C.] sexually abused them by fondling them. The latter charge stems from the reports from a now 19 year old girl that [W.C.] sexually abused her on three occasions when she was age 7. During the present examination, [W.C.] admitted to touching the 7 year old girl one time on the buttocks. He denied sexually abusing the other victims. [W.C.] has a history of one conviction involving criminal sexual behavior on an underaged child plus two other arrests. During the ...

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