In re Civil Commitment of P.D., 081120 NJSC, A-94-18

Docket NºA-94-18
Opinion JudgePATTERSON, JUSTICE
Party NameIn the Matter of the Civil Commitment of P.D.
AttorneySusan Remis Silver, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause on behalf of appellant P.D. (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Susan Remis Silver, on the briefs). Stephen Slocum, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause on behalf of respondent State of New Jersey (Gurbir S. Gr...
Judge PanelPATTERSON, J., writing for the Court. CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE PATTERSON's opinion. CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE PATTERSON's opinion.
Case DateAugust 11, 2020
CourtSupreme Court of New Jersey

In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of P.D.

No. A-94-18

Supreme Court of New Jersey

August 11, 2020

Argued January 7, 2020

On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

Susan Remis Silver, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause on behalf of appellant P.D. (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Susan Remis Silver, on the briefs).

Stephen Slocum, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause on behalf of respondent State of New Jersey (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel, and Stephen Slocum, on the briefs).

Karen Thompson argued the cause on behalf of amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation, attorneys; Karen Thompson, Alexander Shalom, and Jeanne LoCicero, on the brief).

PATTERSON, J., writing for the Court.

In this appeal, the Court considers whether the State must provide discovery to a person facing civil commitment under the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38.

In August 2017, the State filed a petition to civilly commit P.D., relying on P.D.'s conviction for an offense that qualified as a "sexually violent offense" as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26, and other offenses. The State submitted two clinical certificates from psychiatrists who opined that P.D. suffered from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that made him "likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined to a secure facility for control, care and treatment." The trial court entered an order temporarily civilly committing P.D. to the Special Treatment Unit. P.D. waived his right under the SVPA to a court hearing within twenty days of the court's temporary commitment order.

Relying on Rule 4:10-1, which enumerates the discovery devices available in civil cases, and Rules 4:17 and 4:18, the general civil court rules governing interrogatories and requests for discovery and inspection of documents, P.D.'s counsel propounded interrogatories to the State. The State, which had provided documents to P.D. in accordance with its standard practice in SVPA proceedings, declined to answer the interrogatories or produce documents in response to P.D.'s request.

P.D. filed a motion to compel discovery, which the trial court denied. The court found no support for P.D.'s contention that a person facing an SVPA commitment hearing may seek discovery under the general civil discovery rule, Rule 4:10-1, or other rules governing civil cases. The Appellate Division denied P.D.'s motion for leave to appeal the trial court's decision.

The Court granted leave to appeal. 238 N.J. 503 (2019).

HELD: A person facing a civil commitment hearing under the SVPA may not take discovery under Rule 4:10-1, Rule 4:17-1, or Rule 4:18-1. The discovery permitted by those rules is not authorized by the SVPA and cannot be accomplished on the expedited schedule that the statute prescribes. However, based on the terms of the SVPA, a person subject to an SVPA civil commitment hearing is entitled to limited discovery focused on the elements of the State's burden of proof. The Court therefore adopts a new court rule in which it enumerates the categories of documents subject to discovery in an SVPA proceeding and sets forth the requirements for the reports of the State's experts.

1. The SVPA imposes on the State the burden to prove three elements by clear and convincing evidence: (1) that the individual has been convicted of a sexually violent offense; (2) that he suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder; and (3) that as a result of his psychiatric abnormality or disorder, it is highly likely that the individual will not control his or her sexually violent behavior and will reoffend. The State's expert testimony and the risk assessment instruments on which the experts rely comprise the core of the State's proofs in a typical SVPA civil commitment hearing and are often the pivotal proofs on the question whether the individual is highly likely to offend again. (pp. 10-17)

2. As N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.29 and -27.30 make clear, the Legislature intended that our courts conduct SVPA civil commitment hearings expeditiously. The parties to an SVPA commitment hearing cannot proceed under Rule 4:10-1, Rule 4:17-1, and Rule 4:18-1, let alone use the other forms of discovery allowed under the civil rules, without delaying the hearing for months or even years. Accordingly, P.D. is not entitled to discovery under the civil discovery rules. The Court concurs with P.D. that Rule 4:74-7 does not govern civil commitment proceedings under the SVPA. The limited discovery available under Rule 4:74-7 is focused on the terms of the general civil commitment statute, not that of the SVPA, and the Rule was not amended after the SVPA was enacted to apply to that statute. (pp. 18-20)

3. Although a person facing an SVPA civil commitment hearing may not obtain discovery pursuant to the civil discovery rules, the Court considers limited and expeditious sharing of information by the State to be essential to the person's meaningful exercise of the "right to present evidence" and "right to cross-examine witnesses" in defense of the State's application for civil commitment, as guaranteed by N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.31(c) and (d). The Court views the State's pre-hearing discovery obligation to consist of the exchange of two categories of information: (1) the production of documents in its possession, custody or control relating to the history and treatment of the person whose civil commitment is at issue; and (2) the service of expert reports that fully disclose the basis for the expert's opinion regarding the person's mental abnormality or personality disorder and the likelihood that the person will reoffend. (pp. 20-21)

4. The State represented that shortly after it initiates a proceeding for civil commitment pursuant to the SVPA, it immediately produces all documents in its possession relating to the person's criminal history, incarceration, treatment, and the basis for civil commitment. In combination with disclosures concerning the State's experts, those enumerated categories of documents enable a person facing an SVPA commitment hearing to present evidence and counter the State's proofs. Those documents go to the heart of the State's burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence. (pp. 21-22)

5. The State's experts' reports should fully disclose the substance and foundation of the expert's opinion in advance of the hearing, and, in combination with the expert's CV, should set forth the expert's qualifications to render the opinion. The report should contain a complete statement of the expert's opinion regarding the need for civil commitment, and the basis for that opinion. The expert should state any diagnosis relevant to the opinion and explain the basis for each diagnosis. If the expert has utilized a risk assessment instrument that has been deemed reliable and admissible in a decision by this Court or the Appellate Division, the report need not generally establish the reliability of that risk assessment instrument. However, the expert must identify any risk assessment instrument used in the evaluation, address any relevant static and dynamic factors, and summarize any findings with respect to the likelihood that the person will reoffend. An individual subject to civil commitment who contends that the State's expert report is deficient may challenge that report under the net opinion rule or other relevant grounds. (pp. 22-23)

6. In a given case, discovery other than the discovery described above must be sought in a motion filed with the trial court on notice to the State, on a showing of exceptional circumstances. The court, in its discretion, may enter an order granting or denying the person's application to take such additional discovery. (pp. 23-24)

7. The Court exercises its rulemaking authority to promulgate a rule limited to pre-hearing discovery by the individual subject to civil commitment under the SVPA as discussed above, effective thirty days after the date of this decision. (pp. 24-26)

The trial court's decision is AFFIRMED, and the matter is REMANDED to the trial court.

CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, FERNANDEZ-VINA, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE PATTERSON's opinion.

OPINION

PATTERSON, JUSTICE

In this appeal, the Court considers whether the State must provide discovery to a person facing civil commitment under the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38.

Appellant P.D., whom the State seeks to civilly commit under the SVPA, served interrogatories on the State and requested documents in accordance with Rule 4:10-1, Rule 4:17-1, and Rule 4:18-1 -- court rules that govern discovery in civil proceedings generally. The State, which had provided documents to P.D. in accordance with its standard practice in SVPA proceedings, declined to answer the interrogatories or produce documents in response to P.D.'s request. P.D. filed a motion to compel discovery. The trial judge denied the motion, and the Appellate Division denied P.D.'s motion for leave to appeal.

We granted leave to appeal and affirm the trial judge's determination. We agree with the trial judge that a person facing a civil commitment hearing under the SVPA may not take discovery under Rule 4:10-1, Rule 4:17-1, or Rule 4:18-1. The discovery permitted by those rules is not authorized by the SVPA and cannot be accomplished on the expedited schedule that the statute prescribes.

We hold, however, that based on the terms of the SVPA, a person subject to an SVPA civil commitment hearing is entitled to limited discovery focused...

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