Discovery and the SVPA (Part 3)

by | Dec 23, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County, Uncategorized

The unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: 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.

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. 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.

This portion of the holding leaves some unanswered questions. The first is what is meant by “fully disclose the basis for the expert’s opinion.” If the expert opinion was based on test results, must the actual tests and results be disclosed along with the tester’s notes and impressions? Or, can the expert just describe his or her conclusions in a detailed manner? If so, what constitutes “sufficiently detailed”?