This article will be divided into several parts. The first section will discuss my background in dealing with sexually violent predators (SVPs) and what I have learned from working within New Jersery’s SVP scheme. The second section will delineate some of the specific factors within the frum community which must change in order to address the current situation. Last, I will provide some basic advice for people dealing with sexual predators. After graduating from law school, I served as the law clerk to the Honorable Philip Freedman and Serena Perretti. Judges Freedman and Perretti were Superior Court judges in New Jersey; however unlike other judges they were the only judges in the state to hear cases under New Jersey’s Sexually Violent Predator Act
By way of a brief background the SVPA was enacted for the purpose of civilly committing offenders who had completed their prison terms but were still deemed to pose a significant risk of reoffending. While New Jersey has a prison specifically set up for sexual offenders, it has been proven that incarceration alone will not “cure” SVPs. Therefore, prior to an offender’s release from prison, the State has the right to petition for commitment under the SVPA. Respondents are entitled to an initial hearing, and, if committed, yearly hearings to determine whether they are still SVPs. While conducting these hearings, the State normally provides testimony of both a psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist to assist the judge in formulating his or her opinion. The doctors’ opinions are formulated based on the offender’s convictions, unreported deviant activity, and participation in therapy. The standard that must be met is that the committee must have a “mental condition that affects [his] emotional, cognitive or volitional capacity in a manner that predisposes [him] to commit acts of sexual violence.” The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that “A finding of a total lack of control is not necessary. Instead, a showing of an impaired ability to control sexually dangerous behavior will suffice….”
While I do not have statistics, it is fair to state that the State has rarely, if ever, been unsuccessful on its initial petition to have an offender committed as an SVP. This is so because the Attorney General, who prosecutes these cases for the State, controlled which cases it prosecuted. It was evident that few SVPs were ever released from their civil commitment. Moreover, those who were released were subject to community supervision for life. One of the major reasons why committees were not released was because of their unsatisfactory participation in treatment. Another issue that was routinely brought to light was committees minimizing their deviance. Observationally, it seemed somewhat oxymoronic to criticize people with diagnosed mental abnormalities for not properly participating in treatment.
Aside from the SVPA scheme, New Jersey’s Megan’s Law mandates different levels (referred to as tiering in the legal field) of registration and limitations for people convicted of sex offenses. Failure to register as required constitutes a third degree crime. Megan’s Law also requires notification of neighbors in certain instances. It is unclear what percentage of persons charged with Megan’s Law crimes plead guilty to crimes that do not require registration. Nonetheless, prosecutors who specialize in this field are usually weary of amending a charge which would require registration without the presence of extraordinary circumstances.
Based on the hundreds of hours of testimony that I witnessed, some of my personal observations from my clerkship are as follows: [...]