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New Jersey Supreme Court Turns Back Constitutional Challenge to the State's Sexually Violent Predator Act

In an opinion decided November 9, 2010, the New Jersey Supreme Court rejected constitutional challenges to their New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act, NJSA. In the case, the court ruled against the Defendants dual constitutional challenges to the constitutionality of the statute as applied to individuals such as himself, and to his individual circumstance, wherein he was not provided with sex offender treatment while in prison for his underlying criminal sexual offenses.

"Defendant bases his constitutional challenge on two related arguments, contending that in those circumstances the SVPA is punitive, therefore violating the federal and state ex post facto clauses...and that it is fundamentally unfair," the court said in its opinion.

In 1998, while the defendant was serving his sentence, SVPA was enacted, which was to provide specialized treatment for alleged sex offenders who were "suffer(ing) 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." NJSA 30:4-27.26.

In 2007, just prior to defendant's completion of his sentence, the State filed a petition seeking to have him civilly committed pursuant to SVPA. The defendant then filed his challenge to the State's petition, raising the issues currently before the court.

The Supreme Court held that the SVPA was remedial and regulatory in nature, and that is incidental effects, including confinement during the treatment period, did not render it punitive. The Court declined to define this language of SVPA as unconstitutional, for the mere reason that it applies to some individuals, such as the defendant, who were not provided with specialized treatment prior to civil commitment. Following the reasoning expressed in Allen v. Illinois, 478 U.S. 364 (1986), the Court declined to equate the loss of liberty occasioned by civil commitment with that imposed after criminal prosecution, stating: "The key in evaluating statutes that permit civil commitment following incarceration for sex offenders lies in the meaning and intent of the provision relating to treatment that will be provided during that eventual period of civil commitment."

The dissent, written by Justice Albin, stated that "the majority holds that the State can both deny treatment to a prison inmate who suffers from "a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence ... and then use the inmate's failure to receive such treatment ... the basis for his civil commitment...I would not grant W.X.C....his freedom...(but) when the State knows or has a reasonable belief that one of its inmates is suffering from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that will likely render him subject to civil commitment under the (SVPA)...our federal and state constitutions mandate that the State treat or attempt to treat the inmate before initiating civil-commitment proceedings."

The dissent also noted that "At sentencing, in 1994, W.X.C. and his attorney asked Wire court to sentence him to the ADTC for sex-offender inmate has a fundamental liberty interested in securing his freedom after serving his sentence...The State cannot deny an inmate sex-offender...treatment and then use his failure to receive such treatment as the basis for his civil commitment...consistent with the due-process guarantees of our federal and state constitutions." See: In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of W.X.C., 204 N.J. 179, 8 A.3d 174 (N.J. 2010).

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Related legal case

In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of W.X.C.