The past fifteen years have seen the development of sex offender civil commitment statutes, which mandate that some violent sex offenders should undergo compulsory rehabilitation in secure facilities following their release from prison. After a risk assessment, sex offenders who are high-risk repeat offenders have the right to undergo trial in front of a jury or a judge, where proof of their violent behavior can be presented. If it is determined that they satisfy the legal requirements to be civilly committed, they are held, with annual assessments, without release until it is determined that they pose no threat to the community.
However, in some instances, defendants are forced into civil commitment even when they're not legally obligated. If you are a sex offender being considered for civil commitment in California, you need the counsel of an experienced sex crimes lawyer. Your attorney will help you navigate each phase of the legal proceedings and shield you from the stigma and weight of a conviction. To protect our client's rights and dignity, we at the Sex Crimes Attorney provide legal assistance to those who are about to undergo civil commitment.
Definition of Civil Commitment for Sex Offenders
Several considerations go into the civil commitment of sexually violent offenders. The definitions of some of the key phrases used in this statute are provided below.
What Is a Civil Commitment?
A civil commitment happens when a court orders the involuntary institutionalization of an individual. These people must have a serious mental disease or condition that qualifies them for civil commitment for the safety of themselves or other people.
A sexual predator charged in California could be subject to involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility as part of the state's sex offender statutes. Civil commitment for sexually violent predators does not have a set time restriction. The only criterion for releasing committed convicts is a mental health professional's assessment that their actions don't pose a threat to others or themselves.
What Constitutes a Sex Crime?
The crimes that California considers to be sex crimes are way too many to detail here, although most of them fall under what a majority of individuals would define as sexual offenses. Here is a brief rundown of the kinds of crimes that, upon conviction, could classify the defendants as sex offenders:
- Abducting a child for prostitution.
- Sexual battery.
- Lascivious or lewd behavior with a child.
- Oral coupling.
The Legal Definition of a Sexually Violent Predator
An individual is regarded as a "sexually violent predator" if they "have been found guilty of a sexually violent offense against one or maybe more people and are suffering from a diagnosed mental condition that makes them a threat to the safety and well-being of others because it's likely that they will perpetrate sexually violent offenses."
Even though many California sex offenses fall under the umbrella of "sexually violent crimes," the term's core definition pertains the acts of violence, force, menace, and duress, as well as threats of impending bodily harm or future retribution against an individual when these acts are committed while violating:
- CPC 286—California Laws against sodomy.
- California's laws against rape.
- California's statute outlawing indecent acts with minors, CPC 269 aggravated child sexual assault, and CPC 288.5 persistent child sexual abuse.
- CPC 287 which addresses California's illegal oral copulation statute as well as some child molestation offenses such as CPC 288.
- CPC 207—kidnapping to conduct one of the aforementioned sex offenses.
- CPC 220—California's prohibition on assaults committed with the purpose to perpetrate among the aforementioned sex offenses.
It's critical to realize that not every sex offender—or even those who've been forced to register themselves as such—is a sexually violent offender. The reality is that just a tiny fraction of sexual offenders get classified as such.
The term "sexually violent predator," is meant to refer only to those people who have committed violent sexual offenses repeatedly.
In 1996, California became the sixth state in the US to implement a Sexually Violent Predator law, which enabled the civil commitment of a person even after they had served their imprisonment sentence imposed by a judge during a criminal case.
The first SVP commitment statutes were enacted in Washington in the year 1990, following the kidnapping and severe sodomization of a 7-year-old boy by a convicted sex offender who had only recently been released from jail.
The Community Protection Act enhanced sexual offender monitoring laws and raised punishments for sexual offenses. It also included the "Sexually Violent Offender law," the first law in the country that permitted involuntary confinement of SVPs after their imprisonment term.
Presently, civil commitment laws for sexual predators are in place in 20 states as well as at the federal level. California, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Jersey, Missouri, South Carolina, North Dakota, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, and Washington are among the states that fall within this group.
Pennsylvania only permits commitment for child sexual predators who are most likely to conduct sex offenses as adults, while Texas only permits outpatient commitment, where perpetrators are rehabilitated in a closely monitored community program.
What is the Process for Civil Commitment?
Common civil commitment procedures are based on criteria that take into account both the individual's level of threat and their rehabilitation needs. Typically, the process involves two steps:
- The petitioning phase.
- The court phase.
Federal Civil Commitment for Sexual Offenders
The United States Attorney General or another accredited representative of the DOJ or the Federal Bureau of Prisons could begin the civil commitment procedure by classifying a person as a "sexually violent individual" as per the provisions of the Adam Walsh Legislation, a law that was enacted in 2006 and overrules federal civil commitment.
This can occur with convicted defendants who have been declared incapable to face prosecution or with inmates who are scheduled for release. Federal prisoners with a previous record of sexual assault or child molestation often undergo an assessment process to identify release risks that could result in the start of civil commitment.
When a federal authority finds someone to be sexually violent, the civil commitment procedure is then scheduled before a court so that the judge can decide whether or not the individual is actually "sexually dangerous" enough to require involuntary incarceration. Although it is a civil proceeding, there are many protections involved in this procedure, such as the defendant's rights to:
- Provide testimony and evidence.
- To have legal representation.
- Subpoena witnesses.
- Cross-examine and confront witnesses who attend the hearing.
A psychological or psychiatric evaluation and report could also be required for these proceedings. Following the presentation of evidence by both parties, the court will issue a ruling based on whether or not the information presented is "compelling and clear," instead of "beyond a shadow of a doubt," since this isn't a criminal proceeding.
The AG will have jurisdiction over the person if they are deemed to be sexually violent by the court, and they will have that custody till:
- A state takes custody duty.
- The individual's condition has gotten better to the extent they are not sexually dangerous.
State-level Civil Commitment for Sexual Offenders
Even though many state statutes are similar to the federal procedure, there could be slight variations, such as in the circumstances or interpretations of conditions subjected to the civil commitment.
Numerous state procedures are similar to the federal one, with the court making commitment decisions after reviewing information on both parties that indicates, by clear and compelling evidence, the possibility of potential harm.
Yet, a significant distinction is that several states also permit family members or healthcare professionals to file petitions.
Civil Commitment of a Sexually Violent Predator
Before they can reintegrate into society, sexual offenders must pass a state- and/or federal-level criminal relapse evaluation. If the federal or state authorities perceive the offender to be a threat to society at large, they can use a legal process called "civil commitment" to have the prisoner arraigned in court.
Sexual offenders with a record of sex offenses will be assessed psychologically by state-appointed psychologists or sex specialists to determine their mental stability.
Members who have been selected by the state aren't on the sex offender's side and are typically vigilant in watching for indications of mental illness and a likelihood to perpetrate the offenses again. When the state-appointed examiners find that the sexual predator is likely to conduct more sexual offenses, they could be sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
According to USC 4248, sexual offenders who are found to be a risk to society should be detained in custody or an institution under the supervision of the AG until one of the following conditions is met:
- A State takes on accountability, or
- Their mental condition has improved to the point that they no longer pose a sexual risk to others.
When under state control, a sexual predator could spend the remainder of their life in prison when state officials believe the offender would perpetrate the offense again.
Sexual offenders assessed under civil commitment statutes have discovered that state officials will make an effort to keep them behind bars. Offenders charged with sex crimes have the right to legal counsel and the chance to put forth evidence during any civil proceedings.
Perpetrators of sex crimes can fall into one of three tiers, each defined by the severity of the offenses. Many civil commitment statutes that keep sexual predators out of the public for a while are aimed at those who fall under Tier III.
Eligibility Laws and Qualifying Disorders
Sexual offenders are civilly committed under the Sexually Violent Predator law. The act lays out the legal parameters for determining whether or not an offender is fit for release.
An evaluation seeks to ascertain the offender's potential of committing other sexually predatory crimes as well as whether they are suffering from a mental illness that qualifies them as a sexually violent predator.
Convicted sex offenders who meet the requirements for civil commitment should display:
- Personality disorders or mental health issues that make them more likely to perpetrate sexually violent crimes, and
- Potential to commit other sex crimes in the future.
Sex offenders that fit the criteria generally exhibit paraphilia (such as pedophilia) or even personality disorders since the disorder needs to "predispose" the perpetrator to recidivate.
Typically, actuarial risk evaluation tools are used to assess the chance of re-offending by combining risk indicators statistically related to recidivism into a formula that estimates the likelihood of subsequent sexual violence. STATIC-99 is the device that is most frequently employed for this function.
There are several steps involved in determining whether a sexual offender qualifies for commitment. Reviewing sex offenders' records who are about to be discharged from jail is usually the initial step.
The assessment helps to identify inmates who exhibit many risk indicators for sexual offending again. These people are then sent to a psychiatrist or psychologist to undergo a more comprehensive in-person assessment and risk evaluation.
If it is determined that the person meets the requirements for commitment under the law, a hearing is convened during which the defendant and state both present information that is reviewed by a jury or a judge.
Most jurisdictions adopt a "more probable than not" standard to determine whether or not a repeat crime is possible. If the trier of fact determines that the defendant is an SVP, they are committed indefinitely for rehabilitation in a secured facility, often with yearly examinations, until the severity of their risk of recidivism has decreased to the point where they can be released back to society.
Sexual Offender Commitment Programs
When a sex offender is within 6 months of their parole in the CDCR, they must be sent to the DSH to undergo a mental health assessment as a likely SVP.
To meet the criteria, a person must have a medically diagnosed mental condition and be likely to commit sexually violent acts in the absence of effective in-custody mental health treatment. This initiative was designated the Sex Offender Commitment Program by the Department of State Hospitals.
When the district attorney submits a request for a person's commitment as a Sexually Violent Predator, the psychiatric evaluators are invited to appear in court as expert witnesses.
The petition is examined by a higher court judge who decides whether it supports a probable cause finding. The defendant could be ordered by the court to remain in the state hospital while a probable cause proceeding or trial is pending
The outcome of the trial or hearing will establish whether the person poses a risk to other people's safety and health due to a diagnosed psychological mental condition. To put it another way, after leaving the CDCR custody or another secured facility, the person will likely commit sex crimes.
When the judge finds no probable grounds, the petition could be rejected, and the petitioner will be required to appear for parole. If the court finds that a defendant is an SVP beyond a shadow of a doubt, they are placed for an indefinite period in a secured state facility.
Treatment is provided voluntarily, as mandated by the law. A team of professionals—including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and psychiatric technicians—delivers treatment.
The main objectives of the rehabilitation program for sex predators are to help the offender develop social qualities and stop perpetrating sexual offenses. The program employs a comprehensive strategy to improve the person's self-control abilities and get them ready for a future free from reoffending.
Recidivism risk is assessed for each patient, and those at the highest risk receive the most thorough and intensive therapy possible. In most cases, a person can only qualify for the Conditional Release Program by taking part in the rehabilitation program.
Every year, those receiving treatment at the DSH are examined to see if they still fit the SVP standard. If DSH believes the person is not a Sexually Violent Predator, judicial review is requested. The person is discharged and unconditionally released when the state superior court concurs.
DSH could decide to place the person in CONREP if they believe that conditional release would be beneficial for them or when the judge decides that conditional release is preferable to unconditional release.
Patients who have been committed following the SVP laws and who have been granted conditional discharge by the judge will begin community rehabilitation and monitoring under CONREP.
In general, all provisionally released SVPs undergo a rigorous program of rehabilitation and monitoring that includes one-on-one interaction with supervision personnel, specialized treatment for sex offenders, weekly drug testing, surveillance, polygraph exams, as well as active GPS monitoring.
CASOMB, the California Sex Offender Management Board
A 15-person board known as the CASOMB, which is governed by the CDCR, was established in 2006.
The goal of CASOMB is to provide the Legislative body with a resource for dealing with any problems, challenges, or questions about the community administration of adult sexual predators. CASOMB is obliged to carry out an extensive analysis of the existing management strategies for adult sexual predators, present a report of their analysis to the House, and offer recommendations to enhance those strategies.
If sexual offenders conform to specific rules and guidelines of conduct, they could be freed after they are no longer considered a threat to society. A discharge from civil commitment requires proof of the individual's reintegration into the community in the form of a petition submitted to the AG or court. The decision to release the person is frequently made after a court proceeding.
The person should be released right away if the judge rules that they no longer pose a sexual risk to others. Additionally, a person will be conditionally freed if the judge finds that they can be freed under specific medical or mental supervision.
SVPs who have been conditionally released are typically permitted to reintegrate into society as long as they adhere to the rules and standards of behavior set forth by the courts and/or medical or psychiatric administrations.
SVPs who have been given special release terms must abide by the rules or risk having their involuntary commitment discharge reversed.
An offender will be detained and taken back to a detention facility to wait for a hearing once authorities become aware that the person has disregarded the rules outlined at the court proceeding. The offender will be reevaluated at the proceeding to see if their refusal to comply warrants civil commitment.
There are very few legal safeguards that guarantee a certain level of freedom for people who are subject to a civil commitment action. The best course of action for a person, in this case, is to hire a lawyer capable of conducting a separate assessment of the circumstances.
A separate assessment will guarantee that your findings are submitted in court such that the matter is fairly assessed. The prosecution must present sufficient evidence at this proceeding that the offender poses a substantial risk to other people. They ought to be capable of demonstrating:
- The offender has a mental illness that makes them more likely to engage in sexually violent behavior.
- The perpetrator doesn't understand how their sexual violence affects others.
- The person could be dangerous since they have the potential to perpetrate sex crimes in the future.
The court has the authority to assess the evidence presented by state-appointed representatives in all of the aforementioned cases. As was previously noted, the state's appointed assessors and investigators will not be on the offender's side. The defendant has the option of obtaining a second investigation carried out by a legal expert to make sure their point of view is heard.
Find a Sex Crimes Attorney Near Me
At the Sex Crime Attorney, we are familiar with the state and federal statutes that relate to sex offenders. Although we recognize that sexual offenders should be subject to the full force of the law, some people have been put on trial under stringent civil commitment statutes founded on inaccurate information. If you or a loved one has been convicted wrongfully in California, our lawyers will guide you through your legal options. We can perform an independent investigation of the case to ensure that solid and verifiable evidence is presented in your favor. Call us today at 888-666-8480.