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Civil Commitment of Juvenile Sexual Predators

Yesterday the Washington Supreme Court decided In the Matter of the Detention of Troy Belcher, No. 93900-4:

In 2011, at the age of 26, Troy Belcher was civilly committed as a sexually violent predator. In 2015, the superior court ordered that he continue to be indefinitely committed. It based its decision on two sexually violent crimes he perpetrated as a juvenile, a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder with high levels of psychopathy, and a finding that he was more likely than not to recommit if released.
In order to civilly commit a sexually violent predator, the finder of fact must determine that (1) the person has been convicted or charged with a sexually violent crime, (2) he or she suffers from a mental abnormality, and (3) that abnormality makes the person likely to engage in sexually predatory acts if released. RCW 71.09.020(18). We have held that juvenile offenses may be predicate offenses when an adult has committed a more recent sexually overt act. However, we have not yet ruled on whether commitment can be continued using juvenile crimes as the sole predicate offenses.  Belcher argues commitment under this act violates due process because it has the potential to permanently confine a person for a juvenile offense. See WASH. CONST. art. I,ยง 3. However, because of the robust commitment procedure, confining individuals only so long as they are a danger to society, we disagree. We hold that juvenile convictions can be predicate offenses for continued commitment proceedings under RCW 71.09.090. We further find that a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder is sufficient for a finding of mental abnormality under the statute, and that the use of an actuarial tool grounded in both sexual and nonsexual offenses does not violate due process when applied to a sexually violent offender.
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But civil commitment is different from criminal incarceration. See In re Det. of Reyes, 184 Wn.2d 340,347,358 P.3d 394 (2015). Unlike the cases Belcher cites, [Miller, Graham, Roper] SVPs have an ongoing ability to prove they no longer deserve civil commitment. The State must prove not only that a crime occurred, but that the SVP continues to suffer from a mental abnormality and that he or she would likely reoffend if released from confinement. The degree to which a juvenile's mind changes as he or she grows into an adult is already contemplated in the SVP statute. Committed individuals are evaluated annually and have an ongoing ability to prove they no longer require commitment. This is different from a child being sentenced to life without parole for a juvenile offense, Miller, 132 S. Ct. at 2463, or receiving over 30 years of imprisonment for "robb[ing] mainly other groups of children" and "nett[ing] mainly candy" on Halloween night, Houston-Sconiers, 188 Wn.2d at 8. Far from punishing Belcher by imprisoning him for his childhood wrongs, our civil commitment statute ensures he remains in treatment until he no longer exhibits a future likelihood to commit sexual violence.
The decision is correct, sensible, and unanimous, a combination not often seen from the Washington Supreme Court these days.  Congrats to AAG Brooke Burbank, who represented the state, and Andrea Vitalich, who wrote an amicus brief for the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

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