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New York Appellate Court Orders Sex Offender Released from Civil Confinement, Holds Man was Unlawfully Committed

by Lonnie Burton

On December 17, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals reversed a Supreme Court order which revoked the out-patient treatment of a sex offender and directed that he be civilly confined. (In New York, a supreme court is equivalent to a trial court.) The Court of Appeals held that the Supreme Court order which revoked the man's out-patient treatment did not conform to law.

In 2001, Michael M. was convicted of several sex offenses relating to underage girls. When he neared his release in 2008, the State moved to civilly commit him pursuant to Mental Hygiene Law article 10. In November 2011, the Supreme Court imposed strict conditions and out-patient treatment on Michael M. instead of civil confinement.

Michael M. subsequently missed several treatment sessions, lost his job, expressed derision towards his counselor, and was accused of being unwilling to follow the rules of treatment or supervision. On April 19, 2012, upon motion by the State, the supreme court ordered revocation of Michael M.'s out-patient treatment and civilly committed him, holding that the State had proven that he was a "dangerous sex offender requiring confinement" under Mental Health Law §5 10.11 [d][4], 10.07 [f]. Michael M. appealed, arguing that the Supreme Court had used the wrong standard in deciding to order his confinement.

The New York Court of Appeals agreed and ordered Michael M.'s release. The crux of the case was the distinction between "sex offenders who have difficulty controlling their sexual conduct and those who are unable to control it." Under New York law, the former are to be treated as out-patients, and only the latter may be confined.

"The record reveals nothing relevant to the issue of [Michael M.'s] sexual control that occurred between" the time of his crime and the time the Supreme Court revoked his out-patient treatment, the court held. Even though he may have been uncooperative, insolent, and missed a few meetings, those facts "do not give support to the proposition that [Michael M.] had become unable to govern his sexual conduct."

The court said that, at most, the evidence showed that Michael M. was having difficulty warding off urges to have sex with young girls, but not that he was unable to do so. Consequently, the Supreme Court erred in ordering Michael M.'s confinement to a secure treatment facility, as it based its decision on an improper legal standard requiring reversal. See: State v. Michael M., 2014 NY Slip Op 08789 (N.Y. Ct. App), December 17, 2014.

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Related legal case

State v. Michael M.