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Washington SVP Commitment Reversed for Improper Impeachment Evidence

The Washington State Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's civil commitment order under the State's Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVP). The Court held that the lower court erred in allowing an expert witness to be impeached by findings of fact made in an unrelated case.

On April 1, 2003, Washington authorities petitioned to civilly commit Curtis N. Pouncy as an SVP pursuant to Chapter 71.09 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). A commitment proceeding was held before a jury.

"Dr. Richard Packard, a licensed psychologist and certified sex offender treatment provider, testified on behalf of the State. Dr. Richard Wollert, a clinical psychologist, testified on behalf of Pouncy." During cross-examination, the State impeached Dr. Wollert by questioning him about findings of fact made by a Yakima County Superior Court judge in an unrelated proceeding. Pouncy was ultimately found to be a SVP and civilly committed.

The Washington Court of Appeals rejected Pouncy's unanimous jury verdict argument, holding that "the jury was properly instructed that it must unanimously agree as to whether either of the two alternative means, mental abnormality or personality disorder, were proved beyond a reasonable doubt." The Court found that "Pouncy correctly concedes that substantial evidence was presented to support a jury finding that he suffered from both paraphilia NOS non-consent and anti-social personality disorder."

The Court also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing Pouncy's proposed jury instruction on the definition of "personality disorder" because Pouncy's arguments had previously been rejected. See In re Det. Of Twining, 77 Wn.App. 882, 894 P2d 1331 (1995).

The Court then rejected Pouncy's contention that the lower court "improperly commented on the evidence by admitting testimony about the Yakima court's factual findings, critical of Dr. Wollert's methodology, from an unrelated proceeding."

The Court did agree with Pouncy, however, "that the testimony concerning the Yakima court's findings of fact was improperly admitted." The Court found that "viewed in context, it is apparent that Pouncy's counsel's objection to the questioning, based on a lack of foundation, was premised upon the State's failure to qualify the Yakima judge as an expert witness in the areas of sex offender evaluation and psychology." As such, "his objection to that testimony should have been sustained." The Court also agreed that it would have been proper to exclude the evidence on a relevancy objection. See: In re Detention of Pouncy, 184 P. 3d 651, 144 Wash. App. 609 (2008).

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Related legal case

In re Detention of Pouncy