United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Madeline Cox Arleo, District Judge.
matter has been opened to the Court by Petitioner's
("Petitioner" or "R.T.") filing of a pro
se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. For the reasons explained in this Opinion, the
Court denies the Petition and denies a certificate of
FACTUAL OVERVIEW AND PROCEDURAL
is currently civilly committed to the Special Treatment Unit
("STU") in Avenel, New Jersey, pursuant to New
Jersey's Sexually Violent Predator Act
("SVPA"), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 et seq.
3, 2010, the State filed a petition for civil commitment
pursuant to the SVPA, supported by clinical certificates of
two psychiatrists identifying R.T. as a sexually violent
predator ("SVP"). At the time the State filed the
petition for civil commitment, R.T. was serving a four-year
sentence in New Jersey for a 2008 conviction for third degree
theft, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2. Because the theft
conviction is not an enumerated offense under N.J.S.A.
30:4-17.26(a), the State of New Jersey relied upon
Pennsylvania and California convictions for sexual offenses.
10, 2010, the trial court entered an order temporarily
committing R.T. to the New Jersey Special Treatment Unit
("STU"), and scheduled a date for the final
hearing. After a number of delays, the court held a final
hearing on December 18, 2013, at which R.T. appeared. The
State relied on expert reports and testimony from Dean
DeCrisce, M.D. and Nicole Paolillo, Psy.D.. R.T. testified
but did not present an expert. R.T. Following the close of
evidence, Judge Philip Freedman issued an oral decision
committing R.T. to the STU.
appeal, Petitioner argued "that the court lacked
jurisdiction to order his commitment, the State failed to
sustain its burden of proof, he was denied a timely hearing,
and he should have been assigned new counsel." See
In re Civil Commitment of R. T., 2016 WL 674215, at * 1,
4-7 ( N.J.Super. App. Div. Feb. 19, 2016). The Appellate
Division rejected these arguments and affirmed
Petitioner's civil commitment. The New Jersey Supreme
Court denied certification. (Exhibit LL.)
submitted the instant habeas petition for filing on July 1,
2016. (ECF No. 1, Pet. at 17.). The Petition raises four
grounds for relief. Ground One of the Petition raises the
issues he raised to the Appellate Division on direct appeal.
Ground Two of the Petition asserts that the Appellate
Division and New Jersey Supreme Court improperly denied his
motion to supplement the record with an expert report.
Grounds Three and Four assert that Petitioner should be
released from confinement because the state did not have
enough evidence to commit him. Petitioner subsequently filed a
brief in support of the Petition (ECF No. 3),  and the Court
provided Petitioner with a notice pursuant to Mason v.
Myers, 208 F.3d 414 (3d Cir. 2000). Petitioner also
submitted motions for the appointment of counsel (ECF Nos.
6-8), and on March 31, 2017, the Court denied without
prejudice the motion for counsel,  and directed Respondents to
answer the Petition. (ECF No. 10.) On May 15, 2017,
Respondents filed their answer, and Petitioner filed his
reply on May 22, 2017. (ECF Nos. 14-15.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), the district court "shall
entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in
behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a
State court only on the ground that he is in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States." The petitioner has the burden of
establishing his entitlement to relief for each claim
presented in his petition based upon the record that was
before the state court. See Eley v. Erickson, 712
F.3d 837, 846 (3d Cir. 2013); see also Parker v.
Matthews, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2151 (2012). Under the
statute, as amended by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2244 ("AEDPA"),
district courts are required to give great deference to the
determinations of the state trial and appellate courts.
See Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 772-73 (2010).
Where a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by the state
courts, the district court shall not grant an application for
a writ of habeas corpus unless the state court adjudication
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) (2). Federal law is clearly
established for the purposes of the statute where it is
clearly expressed in "only the holdings, as opposed to
the dicta" of the opinions of the United States Supreme
Court. See Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376
(2015). "When reviewing state criminal convictions on
collateral review, federal judges are required to afford
state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only
when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were
wrong." Id. Where a petitioner challenges an
allegedly erroneous factual determination of the state
courts, "a determination of a factual issue made by a
State court shall be presumed to be correct [and t]he
applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption
of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28
U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
Overview of SVPA
Jersey SVPA provides a means for the state to civilly commit
individuals who have been convicted of certain classes of
sexually violent offenses and therefore qualify as
"sexually violent predators." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26.
Under the act, a person qualifies as an SVP where he
has been convicted, adjudicated delinquent or found not
guilty by reason of insanity for commission of a sexually
violent offense, or has been charged with a sexually violent
offense but found to be incompetent to stand trial, 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.
appears that a person may meet the criteria of an SVP, an
"agency with jurisdiction," such as the New Jersey
Department of Corrections, provides notice to the New Jersey
Attorney General at least ninety days before the anticipated
release of this individual. Greenfield v. Dep 't of
Corr., 2011 WL 3203730, at *6 (D.N.J. July 27, 2011)
(citing N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 30:4-27.26;
3:4-27.27(a)(1)). Upon receiving such notice, the Attorney
General, if he concludes that the interests of public safety
warrant involuntary civil commitment of the individual
involved, may bring an action for commitment under the SVPA.
Id. Under the statute, such an involuntary
commitment procedure may follow from the release of an
offender from jail so long as the offender suffers from a
requisite mental abnormality or personality disorder and the
offender is therefore likely to engage in acts of sexual
violence if not confined in a secure treatment facility. N.J.
Stat. Ann. §§ 30:4-27.26; 30:4-27.28;
initiate the commitment of an individual being released from
imprisonment, the Attorney General must file a petition for
commitment, supported by "two clinical certifications,
one of which must be from a psychiatrist who has examined the
individual no more than three days before the submission of
the petition for commitment." Greenfield, 2011
WL 3203730 at *6 (citing N.J. Stat. Ann. §§
30:4-27.26, 30:4-27.28). Upon the filing of such a petition,
the trial court conducts a temporary commitment hearing where
that court examines the supporting certificates and must
determine if probable cause exists to believe that the
committee qualifies as a sexually violent predator under the
act. Id. If the court finds probable cause, it
issues a temporary commitment order pending a final hearing,
which is normally scheduled within twenty days of the initial
hearing. Id; N.J. Stat. Ann. §§
advance of the final hearing, the committee is provided with
copies of the clinical certificates and their supporting
documents, the temporary commitment order, and a statement of
the committee's rights at the final hearing. N.J. Stat.
Ann. § 30:4-27.30(a). Those rights include the right to
counsel and the appointment of counsel if the committee is
indigent, the right to be present during the final hearing
absent prior conduct which would prevent the court from
reasonably conducting the hearing in the committee's
presence, the right to present evidence, the right to
cross-examine witnesses, and the right to a hearing in
camera. See Greenfield, 2011 WL 3203730 at *6
(citing N.J. Stat. Ann. § 30:4-27.31). Following the
appointment of counsel where necessary, the final hearing is
conducted. Id. At that hearing, the trial court
hears evidence, including expert testimony from psychiatrists
and members of the treatment team who have treated the
committee during his temporary commitment who have within the
last five days prior to the hearing conducted a personal
examination of the committee. Id. If the court,
following the hearing, concludes by clear and convincing
evidence that the committee qualifies as an SVP, the court
issues an order involuntarily committing the SVP to the STU.
Id. The SVP may thereafter appeal the court's
order or petition for discharge from the STU at any time, and
by statute will receive annual review hearings at which the
state is again required to prove by clear and convincing
evidence that commitment as the SVP is warranted.
Id. (citing N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 30:4-27.35,
30:4-27.36). Although an individual's commitment as an
SVP often follows the end of a criminal sentence, such
commitment is civil, and not criminal in nature. See
Aruanno v. Hayman, 384 Fed.Appx. 144, 150 (3d Cir.);
cert, denied, 562 U.S. 1115 (2010); see also
Ortiz v. Yates, 2018 WL 1773543, at *4 (D.N.J. Apr. 12,
Petitioner's Claims for Relief
Issues Raised to the Appellate Division on Appeal (Grounds
One, Three & Four)
Grounds One, Three and Four of the Petition, Petitioner
raises the issues he raised on appeal to the Appellate
Division. On appeal, Petitioner argued "that the court
lacked jurisdiction to order his commitment, the State failed
to sustain its burden of proof, he was denied a timely
hearing, and he should have been assigned new counsel."
R.T., 2016 WL 674215, at *1, 4-7. The Appellate
Division rejected these arguments and affirmed
Petitioner's civil commitment. Id. For the
reasons explained below, the Court finds that the Appellate
Division did not unreasonably apply clearly established
federal law in rejecting Petitioner's claims for relief,
and will deny habeas relief on Grounds One, Three, and Four.
has a lengthy sexual and non-sexual criminal history in
several states, which is recounted in detail in the Appellate
Division opinion denying his appeal of his commitment order.
See Id. at *1-2. The Court summarizes the relevant
sixteen, R.T. was charged in Philadelphia with rape and
carrying a concealed weapon. He was placed in a juvenile
diagnostic center and later on probation. (Exhibit N, at
December 1983, at age twenty-eight, R.T. was arrested in
Alameda, California, and charged with assault to commit rape,
battery with serious bodily injury, and possession of a
controlled dangerous substance. (Exhibit N, at N054, N157,
N176.) The charges were dismissed. (Id. at N054.)
January 1984, R.T. was arrested in San Francisco and charged
with committing lewd acts with a child under age fourteen,
oral copulation, false imprisonment, and rape by force.
(Exhibit N, at N054, N157, N176.) Ultimately, the charges
were downgraded to battery, and defendant received a
ninety-day suspended sentence and was placed on probation for
eighteen months. (Id.)
was arrested again in San Francisco in July 1984. Following a
jury trial, defendant was convicted of two counts of rape,
oral copulation, assault with a deadly weapon, false
imprisonment, and two counts of genital penetration by a
foreign object. (Exhibit N, at N054-55, N157, N176.) He was
sentenced to a six-year term of imprisonment. (Id.)
was incarcerated in California from 1984 until 1993. During
that period, he accrued ten disciplinary infractions.
Following his release, R.T. incurred a series of parole
violations and new charges. As a result, R.T. was
intermittently incarcerated at various times between 1994 and
1998. See R.T., 2016 WL 674215, at *2.
after R.T. absconded in May 1997, he was arrested for car
theft in New Jersey in August 1997. (Exhibit N, at N044,
N046.) He was then returned to California where he remained
in custody until he "maxed out" in February 1998.
(Exhibit N, at N051.)
1999, R.T. was again charged in San Francisco with seven
counts of annoying and molesting a child, stalking, and
threatening. (Exhibit N at N055, N158, N177-78.) R.T. was
arrested for drug sales in January 2000. The next month he
was charged with failing to register as a sex offender. He
again failed to register as a sex offender in Las Vegas in
February 2002, and in March he was charged as a fugitive from
justice. R. T., 2016 WL 674215, at *2.
resurfaced in Philadelphia where, in May 2004, he was
arrested and charged with rape, assault, unlawful restraint,
reckless endangerment, false imprisonment, sexual assault,
and indecent exposure. R.T. denied the ...