Involuntary Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators

Commonwealth v. Proffitt, 792 S.E.2d 3 (Va. 2016)

Supreme Court of Virginia holds that in an action to involuntarily commit a convicted rapist as a sexually violent predator testimony by victims of sexual assault committed by the defendant is relevant and corroborative of the evaluation of the defendant and is not unfairly prejudicial, and the trial court’s exclusion of such victim testimony is reversible error.

Background: The Commonwealth of Virginia initiated proceedings to involuntarily commit Brady Arnold Proffitt, Jr. as a sexually violent predator under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA). A clinical psychologist evaluated Proffitt and diagnosed him with sexual sadism disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and alcohol use disorder. She gave testimony during the trial that Proffitt was a sexually violent predator and at risk of reoffending if released without treatment. The Commonwealth then attempted to call two of Proffitt’s rape victims as witnesses. Proffitt objected to the testimony as unfairly prejudicial because his rape conviction was already in evidence. The circuit court agreed and excluded the testimony.

Holding: The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that the victim testimony was not unfairly prejudicial because the testimony would directly support the elements of the case that Proffitt met the statutory definition of a sexually violent predator.

Notable Point:

Rules of Evidence: The court conceded that the rules of evidence prohibit the introduction of evidence to prove that a defendant acted in conformity with a character trait. However, in the present case the material issue was whether Proffitt had a mental abnormality or personality disorder making him likely to engage in sexually violent acts in the future. The court explained that this made it proper to introduce evidence of specific conduct to prove the existence of a character trait that was a required element of the case.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 4