Discovery and the SVPA (Part 2)

by | Dec 21, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County, Uncategorized

Justice Patterson continued in relevant part: 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.

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.

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.

This portion of the holding brings to mind the constitutional maxim that the effective administration of justice should not take a back seat to the need for expediency. Here we see a limited exception to this maxim in the realm of SVPA cases.