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How Civil Commitment of “Sexually Violent Predators” Works in Texas

When a person is convicted of sex offense or sex crime in Texas, their sentence does not necessarily end when they are released from prison. In addition to possibly needing to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life, in some cases the state can seek “civil commitment” of an offender if they are deemed a “sexually violent predator.”

Texas law defines a sexually violent predator (SVP) as someone who is a “repeat sexually violent offender” and who “suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes the person likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence” in the future. An administrative hearing is held first to determine if an individual qualifies as a sexually violent predator. Afterwards, the local district attorney may file a civil commitment proceeding, at which the defendant is entitled to a jury trial. If the court ultimately orders civil commitment, the defendant can be effectively be held indefinitely, or “until the person’s behavioral abnormality has changed to the extent that the person is no longer likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.”

Houston Appeals Court Upholds Civil Commitment of Man Suffering from Schizophrenia

Recently, the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals here in Houston upheld a civil commitment judgment. The defendant in this proceeding was twice convicted of sexual-based offenses. In 2004, the defendant sexually assaulted a teenager, for which he served two year in prison. In 2011, prosecutors charged the defendant with “indecency with a child,” for which he received a seven-year sentence.

After the defendant’s second prison term ended, the district attorney moved for civil commitment. At a hearing, the prosecution presented expert evidence from two witnesses, who testified the defendant has a “behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.” One of the experts explained the defendant was schizophrenic and this was a “major driver” in his drive to commit acts of sexual violence. (It should be noted that proof of a mental illness is not required to civilly commit someone as a sexually violent predator.)

In appealing the civil commitment judgment, the defendant argued the experts’ opinions were “unreliable” as they depended on “hearsay information” from police reports and prison records. The 14th District rejected this argument, noting among other reasons that “commitment is a civil proceeding and not a criminal case,” and there is an “exception to hearsay for police records offered into evidence in a civil case.” More to the point, the appeals court said that the experts’ testimony established the defendant has “serious difficulty controlling behavior.”

Contact a Galveston or League City Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

Civil commitment is a serious matter that can permanently affect a person’s rights even after they have paid their debt to society in a criminal sex crimes case. This is why it is imperative to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney when you are charged with any type of sexually-based offense. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away. Call (281) 280-0100 .