NGRI; sentencing

Williams v. Commonwealth, 2017 WL 3751532 (Va. August 31, 2017)

The Virginia Supreme Court finds that in a case where defendant was found guilty on a charge of felony assault for one act and was found NGRI on another charge of felony assault for an act committed a month later, the trial court’s decision to order defendant to serve his prison term on his conviction before being hospitalized to treat his mental illness under the NGRI verdict did not result in a “grave injustice.” A concurring opinion noted the need for clarification in statutory guidance. A strong dissent argued that existing statutory law requires a different result.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Sexually dangerous individual; proof of likelihood to re-offend

In the Interest of Danny Robert Nelson, 896 N.W.2d 923 (N.D. 2017)

North Dakota Supreme Court orders release of person from commitment as a sexually dangerous individual after finding the evidentiary record fails to show that the person “has a present difficulty of controlling his behavior.” A dissenting opinion argues that the Court goes beyond the requirements of the law and impermissibly substitutes its judgment for that of the district court.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Sexually violent predators; proof of likelihood to re-offend

In the Matter of the Detention of Troy Belcher, 399 P.3d 1179 (Wash. 2017)

Washington Supreme Court rules that an adult’s convictions as a juvenile can be “predicate offenses” supporting a finding that the person meets the criteria for continued civil commitment as a sexually violent predator.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

NGRI acquittees; constitutional standards for release from civil commitment

Poree v. Collins, 866 F.3d 235 (5th Cir. 2017)

Fifth Circuit rules that, although due process requires a finding of both current mental illness and dangerousness in order to maintain the civil confinement of an NGRI acquittee, the trial court’s determination of dangerousness may be based on the acquittee’s potential for dangerous conduct.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Violent sex offenders; due process

United States v. Maclaren, 866 F.3d 212 (4th Cir. 2017)

Fourth Circuit rules that a motion for discharge by a civilly committed sex offender under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act must be heard by the district court if, after meeting prescribed time requirements, the motion contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for discharge” that is “plausible on its face.”

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Sexually Violent Predators and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

In re Chapman, No. 27705, 2017 S.C. LEXIS 29 (Feb. 15, 2017)

The South Carolina Supreme Court rules that a person has a due process right to effective assistance of counsel during civil commitment proceedings for sexually violent predators, but that a claim contesting such commitment due to ineffective assistance of counsel must be raised in a habeas corpus petition as South Carolina statutory law does not provide for making such a claim on direct appeal.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 1

Involuntary Commitment and Loss of Right to Possess Firearms

In re Vencil Appeal of Pa. State Police, 152 A.3d 235 (Pa. 2017)

Pennsylvania Supreme Court interprets Pennsylvania statute governing challenges to loss of right to possess firearms following involuntary civil commitment for mental health treatment, holding that when reviewing a physician’s decision to involuntarily commit an individual, a court must find that the physician’s decision was supported by a preponderance of the evidence available to the physician when the decision was made.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 1

Civil Commitment, Rights Waiver

Matter of S.M., 403 P.3d 324 (Mont. 2017)

The Supreme Court of Montana upheld a statute preventing defendants from being able to waive their right to counsel in civil commitment proceedings, finding it does not violate the Sixth or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

Found in DMHL Volume 37, Issue 1

Law Struck Down that Established Means to Override Advance Directives and Involuntarily Medicate Individuals Civilly Committed or Imprisoned

Hargrave v. Vermont, 340 F.3d 27 (2d Cir. 2003)

The Second Circuit struck down a Vermont law that allowed the state to involuntarily medicate individuals who had been civilly committed or judged  mentally ill while imprisoned, notwithstanding a pre-existing durable power of attorney (DPOA) for health care to the contrary.  The Second Circuit ruled that such a law discriminated against individuals with a mental disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act....

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Ruling that Defendant Found Incompetent to Stand Trial Must Initially Be Hospitalized, Even if Unlikely to Be Restored to Competence, Not Disturbed

United States v. Ferro, 321 F.3d 756 (8th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, Ferro v. United States, 124 S. Ct. 296 (2003)

The Supreme Court declined to review a ruling of the Eighth Circuit that joined the First, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits in holding that an initial period of hospitalization is mandatory for a criminal defendant in the federal system who has been found incompetent to stand trial, even when the evidence shows he is unlikely to be restored to competence.  The Eighth Circuit ruled the trial court did not have the discretion, prior to a reasonable period of hospitalization, to determine whether the defendant will likely attain the capacity to stand trial.  The court determined hospitalization permitted a more careful and accurate diagnosis; the limited length of the hospitalization, a maximum of four months, minimized the potential harm to the defendant; and the "miracles of science suggest that few conditions are truly without the possibility of improvement."...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Virginia Supreme Court Clarifies Scope and Operation of Sexually Violent Predator Commitment Law

Townes v. Commonwealth, 609 S.E.2d 1 (Va. 2005)

Legislation that permits prison inmates to be involuntarily hospitalized as a sexually violent predator (SVP) upon the completion of their prison term has been widely enacted across the country.  Courts asked to review this legislation have generally upheld it.  On the few occasions in which a court has read this legislation in such a way that its scope and impact is narrowed, legislators have tended to respond by enacting additional legislation that clarifies that they intended it to have a broader reach...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Missouri Court Rules Individual Need Not Be Competent Before a Sexually Violent Predator Commitment Hearing Can Be Held; Supreme Court Declines Review

Missouri v. Kinder, 129 S.W.3d 5 (Mo. Ct. App. 2003), cert. denied, 125 S. Ct. 480 (2004)

Many states in recent years have enacted laws that permit convicted sexual offenders to be civilly committed as a sexually violent predator upon the completion of their criminal sentence.  It is well established that a criminal defendant must be competent to stand trial before the defendant can be convicted...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 1

Virginia Supreme Court Rejects Constitutional Challenges to Sexually Violent Predator Commitment Law

Shivaee v. Commonwealth, 613 S.E.2d 570 (Va. 2005)

The U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997), and Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002), defused most federal constitutional challenges to the civil commitment of sexual offenders under the sexually violent predator (SVP) statutes enacted by many states in recent years.  State constitutions could, nevertheless, provide an alternative basis for challenging these enactments.

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Texas Supreme Court Upholds SVP Commitments and Concludes That Incompetent Individuals Can Be Committed; Ruling Not Disturbed

In re Commitment of Fisher, 164 S.W.3d 637 (Tex. 2005), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 428 (2005)

Like at least sixteen other states, Texas permits a court to commit individuals who suffer from behavioral abnormalities that make them likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.   Unlike other states, persons adjudged to be a sexually violent predator (SVP) in Texas are committed to outpatient treatment and supervision. However, a violation of an associated imposed constraint is categorized as a third-degree felony and can result in jail or prison time...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Mentally Incompetent Defendant Has No Due Process Right Against Being Tried, Committed and Treated as Sexually Violent Predator

Moore v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, California, 237 P.3d 530 (2010)

Overturning the decision of the California Court of Appeals, the California Supreme Court in a split decision has ruled that a mentally incompetent defendant has no due process right to avoid being tried and committed as a sexually violent predator. The court held that due process does not require mental competence on the part of someone undergoing a commitment or recommitment trial, which is a civil proceeding under the California Sexually Violent Predators Act. The strong governmental interest in protecting the public through the proper confinement and treatment of SVP's would be substantially thwarted by recognizing an SVP's right to delay or avoid confinement and treatment for a sexually violent mental disorder because his problems render him incompetent to stand trial. Recognition of such a due process right could prevent an SVP determination from being made at all. Such a scenario could often recur and would undermine the purpose and operation of the Act. The court found that public safety could suffer as a result.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 1

Prior Determination That Defendant Not a Mentally Disordered Sex Offender Not Bar to Later Civil Commitment as Sex Offender

In re Interest of D.H., 281 Neb. 554, 797 N.W.2d 263 (Neb. 2011)

The Nebraska Supreme Court held on May 20, 2011 that a 1991 determination at the time of a defendant’s conviction and sentence that he was not a “mentally disordered sex offender” under Nebraska’s sex offender law then in effect was not res judicata barring commitment proceedings in 2010 under Nebraska’s current Sex Offender Commitment Act. In so deciding, the Court followed a similar California case that found that a 1982 determination that the defendant was not a sex offender did not preclude a civil commitment proceeding 10 years later because the issue was the mental health of the defendant as he approached release, not as it existed at the time of his conviction. People v. Carmony, 99 Cal.App. 4th 317, 120 Cal.Rptr.2d 896 ( 2002). The Nebraska Court held that the Act provides for assessment of the defendant’s mental health, risk of recidivism and threat to public safety as he approaches release. Based upon the changeable nature of mental health and dangerous determinations, the assessment is not res judicata because the issue presented is not the same as that litigated at the time of his 1991 sentencing.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 6

Fourth Circuit Finds Federal Commitment of Sexually Dangerous Persons Does Not Violate Equal Protection

United States v. Timms, 664 F.3d 436 (4th Cir. 2012)

Reversing the decision of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision written by Judge G. Steven Agee, held on January 9th that the federal scheme found in 18 U.S.C. § 4248 permitting civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. Timms’ case was one of the first cases to arise under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. That section authorizes the civil commitment of individuals in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who are determined to be a sexually dangerous person, defined as someone “who has engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation and who is sexually dangerous to others.” 18. U.S.C. § 4247(a)(5).

The Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina is the federal institution to which prisoners in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons are now transferred for assessments as sexually dangerous persons. Most of these cases are therefore being heard before the North Carolina district court and appealed to the Fourth Circuit. Timms was in custody at Butner, completing a 100 month sentence for soliciting and receiving child pornography by mail, when the government filed a certificate to commit him. At the time the certificate was filed, the Comstock case, the first challenge to the federal sexually dangerous commitment scheme, was pending before the Fourth Circuit. The hearing on the merits of his case was therefore put on hold. The District Court in Comstock had found the statutory scheme unconstitutional on the grounds that Congress lacked authority to enact it, and the Fourth Circuit later upheld that decision. The United States Supreme Court reversed, upholding the authority of Congress to enact the statute under the Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution. United States v. Comstock, 130 S.Ct. 1949, 176 L.Ed.2d 878 (2010). Upon remand and then re-appeal, the Fourth Circuit determined in Comstock II that the statute did not violate the due process clause by requiring a court to find by clear and convincing evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, that the individual is a sexually dangerous person. United States v. Comstock, 627 F.3d 513 (4th Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 131 S.Ct. 3026, 180 L.Ed.2d 865 (June 20, 2011).

When his case finally came forward for hearing before the District Court after the Comstock I and II decisions, Timms argued that the statutory scheme violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The District Court agreed, relying on Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107 (1966) that held that the government cannot provide less protection during civil commitment proceedings for prisoners who are completing there sentences than for nonprisoners. The district court reasoned that the federal government has no authority to commit sexually dangerous persons who are not in prison, and therefore individuals in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons are not being treated similarly with sexual predators in the community.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit first determined that it had to decide whether to apply a strict scrutiny standard of review, as Timms argued, or the generally applicable rational basis standard.. Timms relied on Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71 (1992) and Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 (1979) that recognized that civil commitment constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty. However, the 4th Circuit found that these cases were decided on due process grounds, not equal protection, and the Supreme Court, despite being provided an opportunity to do so, never expressly established a heightened standard of review. As a general rule, the Court held that legislation is presumed to be valid and will be sustained if the statute is rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Following the First Circuit decision in United States v. Carta, 592 F.3d 34 (1st Cir. 2010), deciding this very same issue, the Court held that the generally-applicable standard is thus rational basis.

The Fourth Circuit next turned to the Equal Protection issue. Under the Equal Protection Clause, all persons similarly situated must be treated alike. The Court held that Congress had a rational basis for subjecting sexually dangerous persons in BOP custody to civil commitment. The Court found that the scope of the federal government’s authority for civil commitment differs so much from a state’s authority that there is a rational basis for the distinction Congress drew. Congress rationally limited its scope to sexually dangerous persons within BOP custody based on Congress’ limited police power and the federal interest in protecting the public from reasonably foreseeable harm from such persons.

Found in DMHL Volume 31 Issue 2

Massachusetts Court Permits Evidence of Sex Offender’s Lack of Participation in Treatment, but Not His Refusal to Participate, to Be Used at Commitment Hearing

Commonwealth v. Hunt, 971 N.E.2d 768 (Mass. 2012)

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has held that a prisoner’s refusal to participate in sex offender treatment programs that require a waiver of confidentiality does not violate his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, but does violate fundamental fairness embodied in the therapist-patient privilege. A prisoner’s refusal to participate in sex offender treatment may therefore not be admitted into evidence in a civil commitment proceeding or used by evaluators to formulate an opinion as to whether the prisoner is a sexually dangerous predator (“SDP”), but his simple failure to receive any treatment may be so used.

In 1990, the defendant pled guilty to three charges of raping a child, the daughter of his live-in girlfriend, and an unrelated burglary charge, and was sentenced to 8-15 years in prison. Several times while in prison, the defendant was offered sex offender treatment. As a condition of treatment, however, he was required to sign an agreement allowing the therapist to provide information concerning his progress to the Department of Corrections and the parole board. While temporarily committed to the Massachusetts sex offender treatment center awaiting a hearing on the civil commitment petition, the defendant was again offered treatment but was required to sign a statement acknowledging that anything he said or disclosed in discussion with his therapist might be reviewed by qualified examiners to determine whether he was a SDP. The defendant refused the treatment arguing that admission of that evidence would violate his privilege against self-incrimination.

At trial in 2008, the Commonwealth offered three experts who testified that the defendant was properly diagnosed with pedophilia and was likely to offend again. The defendant offered three psychologists who testified that the defendant may or may not meet the definition of pedophilia, but was not likely to sexually re-offend. Two of his experts testified that he did not have a sexual abnormality and one did. Before and during trial, the defendant moved to bar any reference to his refusal to participate in treatment, arguing that information concerning his refusal would violate his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The trial court denied his motion and a jury thereafter found him to be a SDP.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court relied on the United States Supreme Court case of McKune v. Lile, 536 U.S. 24 (2002), in finding that no mandatory penalty arose in Massachusetts from a prisoner’s refusal to participate in treatment. In McKune, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an incriminating statement may be deemed “compelled” when the penalties for the defendant’s refusal to incriminate himself may be so severe that they are capable of coercing incriminating testimony. The Supreme Court specifically found in that case, however, that a convicted prisoner’s participation in a sexual abuse treatment program where he was required to complete a sexual history form detailing prior sexual activities regardless of whether such activities constituted uncharged crimes was not compelled even though his refusal to participate resulted in the automatic curtailment of his visitation rights and other prison privileges, and required transfer to a maximum security unit. Here, the Massachusetts Court found that an offender faces only the possibility that if he refuses to participate, the Commonwealth may offer such refusal in evidence at a future SDP hearing or an expert may use his refusal to support his opinion that the defendant is a SDP. Since the defendant’s silence was not being used against him in a criminal proceeding, his silence was insufficient alone to support a SDP finding. Instead the Commonwealth was merely giving evidentiary value to his refusal. His 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination was therefore not violated.

Nonetheless, the Massachusetts Supreme Court went on to recognize that, under the common law, evidence that a defendant has refused sex offender treatment would constitute unfair prejudice. The Court pointed to the legislature’s recognition of the importance of confidentiality in communications between patients and psychotherapists through its enactment of an evidentiary privilege. Citing the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Jaffee v. Redmond, 518 U.S.1 (1996), the Massachusetts Court found that the waiver of confidentiality during sex offender treatment poses a substantial risk of impeding the development of an atmosphere of confidence and trust, chilling the candor of communication and diminishing the likelihood of successful treatment. If the Commonwealth provided treatment without the requirement of a waiver of confidentiality, the inference a jury might derive from his refusal to participate would be fair and reasonable. But the Court drew a distinction between evidence that a defendant “refused” treatment, which might prejudice a jury, and evidence that the defendant “did not receive” treatment. The Court recognized that the lack of treatment itself, either because treatment was simply not offered or because the defendant refused treatment, was directly relevant as to whether the defendant might re-offend and thus meet the definition of a SDP. Therefore, the Court held that evidence that a defendant did not receive sex offender treatment is admissible, but it is error to admit evidence that a defendant refused treatment when he could receive such treatment only by waiving confidentiality and the therapist-patient privilege.

Found in DMHL Volume 31 Issue 6

DC Circuit Rejects Special Circumstances Argument of Potential Lengthy Civil Commitment in Upholding Involuntary Medication Order

United States v. Dillon, 738 F.3d 284 (D.C.Cir. 2013)

The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals upheld on December 24, 2013, the district court’s order authorizing involuntary treatment with antipsychotic medication to restore the defendant’s competency to stand trial. The Court found no merit in the defendant’s argument under the first prong of United States v. Sell, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), that his potential civil commitment undermined the government’s interest in prosecuting him for threatening the President of the United States.

The defendant Simon Dillon was indicted for threatening the President of the United States. Dillon, who had been repeatedly hospitalized for mental illness, sent an email to a Secret Service agent from a location three blocks from the White House, stating that he would not harm the President if the agent met with him and agreed to “meet the demands of God.” If the agent did not, the President would get the worst Christmas present ever, would suffer for 30 days, and would wish for death that would not come to him. The Secret Service arrested Dillon the next day, and the D.C. Department of Mental Health sought his civil commitment. Following an administrative hearing in January 2012, the Mental Health Commission recommended his outpatient civil commitment. Dillon was then re-arrested and shortly thereafter, the district court ordered him committed for a competency evaluation.

Two government doctors first evaluated Dillon at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, and in a March 2012 report, diagnosed him with schizophrenia, paranoid type, but concluded he was competent to stand trial. Their opinion came with less than the usual degree of psychological certainty because they found Dillon was unable to rationally consider an insanity defense. As a result, both Dillon and the government requested a further psychiatric evaluation, and the court committed him to Butner Federal Medical Center. At Butner, he was diagnosed with delusional disorder, grandiose type, and the evaluator concluded he was incompetent to stand trial. Following a hearing, the district court found him incompetent to stand trial and committed him for a determination as to whether he could be restored to competency. Following a competency restoration study submitted to the court in February 2013, two evaluators diagnosed Dillon with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type and concluded he could be restored to competency with antipsychotic medication. They based their conclusion on studies estimating the rate at which defendants are successfully restored to competency and on Dillon’s medical history indicating he had responded favorably to psychotropic medication during prior hospitalizations. They also reported that Dillon was not a danger to himself or others while in custody.

As a result of this report, the court held a Sell hearing at which both the evaluating psychologist and psychiatrist testified. The district court found that the government had an important interest in bringing the defendant to trial that was not undermined by special circumstances, and that involuntary medication would significantly further that interest. On appeal, the D.C. Circuit first reviewed the Supreme Court decisions on involuntary medication, including the Sell decision. It then concluded that it should conduct a de novo review of the district court’s holding under the first prong of Sell as to the importance of the governmental interest in prosecuting the case, and that it should review the remaining findings on the other three prongs for clear error, following the approach of the majority of other circuits, except the Tenth Circuit.

Dillon first challenged the district court’s finding under the first prong of Sell that important governmental interests were at stake. Dillon conceded that the crime with which he was charged was serious, but argued that special circumstances existed that lessened the importance of the government’s interest, namely the prospect of lengthy civil commitment and his own purported non-dangerousness. Dillon, however, failed to argue the potential for his civil commitment before the district court, even though the government mentioned it in its brief and argument. The Court of Appeals therefore found he had waived his ability to raise this argument on appeal. The Court further found that the argument would not have succeeded in any event even though Sell raised the potential for lengthy civil commitment as a special circumstance that could undermine the government’s interest in prosecution. The Court noted that Dillon was only civilly committed to outpatient treatment following his arrest on these charges, and given his second argument that he was not dangerous, it was unlikely he would have been committed to civil “confinement,” the term used in Sell instead of civil “commitment.”

Dillon also argued that he was not dangerous and this factor undermined the government’s interest in prosecuting him. The Court found, however, that although the government has an interest in incapacitating someone who is a danger to the public, it is not the government’s sole interest. The governmental interest also includes protecting the public by incapacitating the defendant, promoting respect for the law, and providing just punishment for an offense.

Dillon next argued under the second prong of the Sell test that the medication was not substantially likely to restore his competency. He stated that the schizoaffective diagnosis was inaccurate and he instead suffered from a delusional disorder. He argued the success rate for treating delusional disorders with antipsychotic medication was too low to warrant his forced medication. The Court pointed out, however, that the last two doctors who diagnosed Dillon with schizoaffective disorder had a much longer time to observe him and arrive at the correct diagnosis, plus his medical history reflected he had previously responded favorably to treatment with antipsychotic medication. The Court therefore found that the district court’s determinations were not clearly erroneous and upheld its order to treat Dillon with medication over his objection to restore his competency to stand trial.

Found in DMHL Volume 33 Issue 1