Sunday, February 21, 2010

Abuse book - American Legal System - Shlomo Singer assist D.A.



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: [...]

7 comments :

  1. This is written by someone obviously accustomed to expressing himself with jargon. Paragraphs 2 & 3 I had to read at least twice (some sentences 3 times) to have a semi-confident grasp of what he was saying exactly.

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  2. To me, that is awesome. Of course, a professional should use precise terminology, even if laymen don't understand him.

    What I appreciate though is the precise formulations of the American law by someone knowledgeable in the Jewish law.

    SVP is an important area, but if somebody could also point me to other articles comparing the two systems, I would greatly appreciate it.

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  3. Rav Eidensohn,

    Could you look at he RBS blogs Life in Israel and Tzedek-Tzedek and comment on this tragedy in RBSA?

    Thanks,

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  4. @MK,

    Look up "jargon" in any decent dictionary, and you'll find it means exactly the opposite of "precise terminology," and, as well, there's nothing "precise" in what is written here, so I'm not sure where you're coming from. But your comment, however flippant, makes it clear that I'm not helping anyone by failing to specify my reservations. So here goes.

    A LOT is left vague in just two simple paragraphs:

    (1) Are these "SVPs" dubbed as such upon criminal incarceration or upon civil review before release?

    (2) Who deems them "high risk reoffenders," the parole board, an independent review committee, or the judge himself? If it's a civil "commitment," why is it the State that is petitioning? Is this the same arrangement as with mental patients?

    (3) What on earth could "unreported deviant activity" be? Where was it unreported? And they're reporting it, after all. Is it from the prison file but wasn't in the court file? If so, doesn't the parole board & other authorities already have access to such info? If not, is it behavior demonstrated in the examination itself? Something he's been tested on? Testimony he has actually offered the examining psychologist?

    (4) Do we actually know of "mental condition[s]...that predispose [patients]...to commit acts of sexual violence"? Of course, we know of perpetrators so disposed, but how is it that one establishes someone having such a "mental condition", thus meeting the legal "standard" for commitment?

    (5) What on earth is "sexually dangerous behavior" meant to denote?! (Just to make a point of the vagueness: Why can't one argue that so-called 'unprotected' sex outside of monogamy qualifies as "dangerous," because if so then a sizeable chunk of every country's populace demonstrates "an impaired ability to control" themselves regarding it, and would thus qualify as "SVPs" (!). I presume the writer means something more sadomasochistic, but the whole evaluation process and what they're even evaluating remains entirely vague.)

    (6) It's not clear what the point of paragraph 3 is at all, for if the AG is successful because he is selective, then the point of interest would what the basis is of the AG's selectivity: They choose those cases in which they're most likely to be victorious? So what characterizes such cases? And what percentage are they of SVPs generally? (which brings us back to 1 & 2 above).

    (7) What is "minimizing deviance"? They don't see it as morally wrong? They pretend their problem afflicts them less than it clearly does? They pretend it's normal, accepted, and widespread? They overestimate their ability to recover? Or they don't want to recover? (It's also not clear what is at all unusual about any of these "minimzings"; in fact, any one of them would seem to characterize most any criminal or mental patient, so what's the big point?)

    (8) There is something "mentally abnormal" about these patients such that they are unable to participate in treatment? I thought it was a problem more akin to an addiction. Upon this sentence, I realize I have up until now no idea what the writer has been talking about....

    8 clear points of vagueness in 12 sentences-- "awesome" indeed!

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  5. @MK,

    Look up "jargon" in any decent dictionary, and you'll find it means exactly the opposite of "precise terminology," and, as well, there's nothing "precise" in what is written here, so I'm not sure where you're coming from. But your comment, however flippant, makes it clear that I should specify my reservations. A LOT is left vague in just two simple paragraphs:

    (1) Are these "SVPs" dubbed as such upon criminal incarceration or upon civil review before release?

    (2) Who deems them "high risk reoffenders," the parole board, an independent review committee, or the judge himself? If it's a civil "commitment," why is it the State that is petitioning? Is this just the same commitment process a mental patient undergoes?

    (3) What on earth could "unreported deviant activity" be? Where was it unreported? And they're reporting it, after all. Is it from the prison file but wasn't in the court file? If so, doesn't the parole board & other authorities already have access to such info? If not, is it behavior demonstrated in the examination itself? Something he's been tested on? Testimony he has actually offered the examining psychologist?

    (4) Do we actually know of "mental condition[s]...that predispose [patients]...to commit acts of sexual violence"? Of course, we know of perpetrators so disposed, but how is it that one establishes someone having such a "mental condition", thus meeting the legal "standard" for commitment?

    (5) What on earth is "sexually dangerous behavior" meant to denote?! (Just to make a point of the vagueness: Why can't one argue that so-called 'unprotected' sex outside of monogamy qualifies as "dangerous," because if so then a sizeable chunk of every country's populace demonstrates "an impaired ability to control" themselves regarding it, and would thus qualify as "SVPs" (!). I presume the writer means something more sadomasochistic, but the whole evaluation process and what they're even evaluating remains entirely vague.)

    (6) It's not clear what the point is of the entire 3rd paragraph. If the State is so successful because the AG is selective, then it would seem the proper point of interest would be the basis of that selectivity: The AG chooses those cases where they're more likely to be victorious? Which are those? And what is the prosecution rate generally amongst SVPs? (which brings us back to 1 & 2 above)

    (7) What's "minimizing [one's own] deviance"? They see nothing morally wrong with their inclinations? Or is it that they pretend the behavioral disorder is not so acute? Or that, while acute, can be easily overcome with little sacrifice? Or do they insist that it is not so deviant at all, but normal, accepted, and widespread? (In any case, I don't see the point of interest in any of this, for none of these "minimizings" would not characterize any criminal or mental patient from any part of the spectrum, so what's the point?)

    (8) Wait a minute. These offenders have "mental abnormalities" that would naturally preclude their participating in treatment? I had thought, up until now, we were talking of an affliction analogous to some addition. Now that the writer is talking about as if it were some kind of cognitive disorder (!). What's going on?

    8 points of vagueness in 12 sentences-- "awesome" indeed!

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  6. Inquiring Minds Want to KnowFebruary 22, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    Rav Eidensohn,

    Why the silence on the RBSA issue?

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  7. I find the article clear so far, and I don't have any of the questions listed above.

    Also, I find the language precise, not jargon. An ADA must be careful about any language being used, and that is reflected here.

    That said, I am more interested in the meat of the article than in grading it like a term paper.

    While it is reassuring that an SVP might never be loosed on society, the flip side is that somebody falsely convicted might never have a chance at freedom.

    Also disturbing is that the state has the right to civilly petition the state to commit SVP's. Though I am no friend of SVP's, it seems very dangerous to have all this happen outside the criminal justice system. It seems to set a precedent of administering a sentence of incarceration (under a different name) while sidestepping the right to due process.

    I don't have another solution to the whole problem of sexual predators. But like the "three strikes you're out" law, this seems like a solution made in panic while overwhelmed by a problem. Such solutions are rarely ideal.

    I'm looking forward to the rest of the article to see if my initial impression is in error and discover more about what ends up in court.

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