Does a Jury Have to Be Unanimous When Committing a Convicted Sex Offender?

August 24th, 2020 by Tad Nelson in Sex Crime

A sex crime conviction can follow you for the rest of your life. Indeed, even after you have served a criminal prison sentence for a sex offense, a Texas judge may subsequently order your “civil commitment” if prosecutors can show you are a “repeat sexually violent offender.” And even if the court does not strictly follow the necessary process before ordering a civil commitment, that may still not be enough to ensure your freedom.

Houston Appeals Court Declines to Overturn Commitment Order Due to “Harmless” Error

A recent civil commitment decision from the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals here in Houston offers a case in point. In this proceeding, a Texas court convicted a defendant in the sexual assault of a child. Previously, an Oregon court found the same defendant guilty of “sexual abuse in the third degree” under that state’s law.

Texas prosecutors subsequently sought civil commitment of the defendant after he completed his criminal sentence. Under Texas law, civil commitment required proof that the defendant’s Oregon conviction was for a “substantially similar” offense than the one he committed in Texas. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals agreed the defendant’s convictions met this requirement.

gavel and book in court room

In a separate issue, the defendant also pointed out the trial judge improperly instructed the jury that found him to be a “sexually violent predator.” In Texas, you have the right to a separate jury trial in a civil commitment proceeding. As with a criminal trial, the jury must unanimously find the subject of the civil commitment proceeding is a “sexually violent predator.” However, the Texas Supreme Court recently confirmed that only 10 votes (out of 12) are necessary to “reach a verdict declining to find that a person is a sexually violent predator.”

In this particular case, the defendant said the judge never told the jury about this rule. The 14th District agreed this was a mistake. That said, the appellate court found the error legally “harmless.” Given the jury did unanimously conclude the defendant was a sexually violent predator, the court reasoned the missing instruction “probably caused the rendition of an improper judgment.”

Get Help from Houston Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Tad Nelson Today

Despite the appellate court’s cavalier attitude towards due process, it is critical to understand that civil commitment is no laughing matter. Unlike a criminal sentence, which is subject to certain statutory limits, a civil commitment can last indefinitely–or, to be more precise, until the government decides that you no longer have a “behavioral abnormality” that makes you a danger to the public.

Obviously, the best way to avoid civil commitment is not to be convicted of a sex crime or sex offense in the first place. If you are facing such charges, it is imperative you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, League City or Galveston today if you need legal advice or representation in any criminal matter. Call 281-280-0100


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