Court of Appeals September Session: Arguments of Interest for September 13, 2017

The Court of Appeals wraps up the September Session arguments on Wednesday, September 13th with three cases on the docket (the Court’s case summaries can be found here). The Court will hear arguments today on the following issues: (1) whether the State established, by clear and convincing evidence, that a sex offender suffered from a “mental abnormality” that would allow the State to involuntarily commit him under the Mental Hygiene Law upon his release from prison; (2) whether the warrantless arrest of a criminal defendant outside his apartment in the common area of a two-family home violated his constitutional rights because the police entered the home without his consent; and (3) whether New York’s persistent felony offender statutes are unconstitutional under Appendi v New Jersey.

No. 102    Matter of State of New York v Floyd Y.

For sex offenders in New York, there are two forms of punishment.  There’s the criminal prosecution, prison sentence, and registration on the State’s sex offender registry.  Once their term of imprisonment is over, however, that’s not necessarily the end of their involuntary commitment.  The State has the right under the Mental Hygiene Law to bring proceedings to involuntarily commit the most dangerous and likely to reoffend offenders to a secure treatment facility immediately upon their release from prison.  Particularly, Mental Hygiene Law article 10 provides that a sex offender may be involuntarily committed if the State shows, by clear and convincing evidence, that the offender suffers from a “mental abnormality,” which it defines as “a congenital or acquired condition, disease or disorder that affects the emotional, cognitive, or volitional capacity of a person in a manner that predisposes him or her to the commission of conduct constituting a sex offense and that results in that person having serious difficulty in controlling such conduct.”

In Floyd Y., the State brought a commitment proceeding, and the jury found that the State had met its burden to establish that the offender had a mental abnormality, as defined in the Mental Hygiene Law.  That finding, however, was reversed by the Court of Appeals in a prior proceeding (22 NY3d 95 [2013] [reversing because verdict was based on inadmissible hearsay]). Undeterred, the State retried the offender, and the jury again found that he suffered from a mental abnormality.

Supreme Court, however, set aside the verdict, holding that the State failed to meet its burden to commit the offender.  Supreme Court noted that the Court of Appeals in Matter of State of New York v Donald DD. [Kenneth T.] (24 NY3d 174 [2014]) had “significantly increased the quantum of evidence the State must present to demonstrate that [an offender] has a serious difficulty controlling his sex offending behavior,” and the expert evidence in this case, as in Kenneth T., simply didn’t cut it. After another hearing, Supreme Court held that the offender was not in need of involuntary commitment.

The Appellate Division, First Department reversed both orders and reinstated the jury’s verdict that the sex offender had a mental abnormality.  The Court distinguished the expert evidence in this case from that in Kenneth T., and held that the diagnosis of pedophilia here was sufficient to establish that the offender should be involuntarily committed.  The Court was careful, however, to limit its holding to the particular facts of this case.

By this decision, we do not hold that all offenders who suffer from pedophilia are automatically, by virtue of that diagnosis alone, subject to mandatory civil management. We simply hold that the State’s evidence in this case—including respondent’s multiple diagnoses, his history of sexual misconduct, his admitted inability to control his pedophilic urges, his lack of satisfactory progress in sex offender treatment and his failure to have a viable relapse prevention plan—was legally sufficient to uphold the jury’s conclusion that respondent has difficulty controlling his sexually offending behavior

(Matter of State of New York v Floyd Y, 135 AD3d 70, 77 [1st Dept 2015]).

The Court of Appeals will now decide whether its prior decision in Kenneth T. compels a different result.

The Appellate Division, First Department’s order can be found here.

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