Thursday, July 31, 2008

In re the Care and Treatment of Jackie Holtcamp v. State[1]

Opinion handed down July 31, 2008
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion

The Missouri Supreme Court held that the Missouri Attorney General’s Office could petition to commit a prisoner to the Department of Mental Health as a sexually violent predator, regardless of the reasons for the prisoner’s present incarceration.[1]

I. Facts and Holding[2]
In Missouri, defendants who have pled guilty to a sexually violent offense may be civilly committed under the sexually violent predator law (SVP law). [3] In 1983, appellant Jackie Holtcamp pleaded guilty to attempted forcible rape. He pleaded guilty to second-degree statutory sodomy in 1999. Holtcamp was later incarcerated in 2001 for violating his probation for the 1999 offense. The 1983 offense of attempted forcible rape qualified as a sexually violent offense, whereas the 1999 offense did not. Five days prior to Holtcamp’s expected release, the attorney general’s office petitioned to civilly commit him. Holtcamp appealed, contending that the probate division lacked jurisdiction to commit him. He argued that the sexually violent predator law, in light of all its other provisions, applies only to those incarcerated for a sexually violent offense. Because the 1999 offense of second-degree sodomy that resulted in his incarceration did not qualify as a sexually violent offense, he contended that he could not be civilly committed under the SVP law.

The Missouri Supreme Court, reviewing the issue de novo, determined that the statute was ambiguous but rejected Holtcamp’s interpretation of the law. The Court turned to rules of statutory construction and held that the probate court did have jurisdiction to hear the state’s petition. Relying on the language of the sexually violent predator law, the determination of civil commitment “focuses on the inmate’s present mental condition, not the crime for which he is presently confined.”[4] The court further clarified that the requirement that the original conviction for a sexually violent offense is “an anchor around which other pieces of evidence may be cemented.”[5]

II. Legal Background

Missouri’s sexually violent predator law (SVP law)[6] was enacted January 1, 1999, and allows for proceedings under the Act to take place in probate court, making them civil in nature. The law was designed to incorporate both protective and rehabilitative functions. The civil commitment of sexually violent predators (SVPs) after their release from prison is meant to provide the predators medical and psychological treatment, while also protecting the public by keeping them off the streets.[7] The correctional facility must provide notice to both the attorney general and a multidisciplinary team that the prisoner meets the statutory criteria of an SVP, at least 360 days prior to the prisoner’s release.

Under the law, an SVP includes anyone suffering “from a mental abnormality… [making] the person more likely than not to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if not confined … and who: (a) Has pled guilty or been found guilty, or been found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect… of a sexually violent offense…”[8] The statutory definition and the law in its entirety make no reference to whether the requisite sexually violent offense under subsection (a) must be the offense for which the SVP is currently imprisoned. Many states have sexually violent predator laws, but some are clearer on the requirements for civil commitment. For example, certain states require that the prisoner be currently incarcerated for a sexually violent offense to institute a civil commitment proceeding,[9] while other states do not.[10] Missouri’s law is ambiguous and required judicial interpretation.

III. Commentary

The instant Court’s interpretation protects society from dangerous sexually violent predators that would otherwise be released. Protecting the public from sexually violent predators who have a statistically high recidivism rate may result in successful rehabilitation and reduce the number of sexually violent offenses. However, such an interpretation is not without criticism.
The negative implications include costly and potentially unsuccessful rehabilitation efforts, with expenditures estimated at over $100,000 per year, per offender.[11] The Court’s decision in this action may also result in constitutional implications. Judge Teitelman, the sole dissenter in the instant case, criticized the majority’s interpretation of the law at issue.[12] Judge Teitelman argued that the majority relied heavily on statutory rules of construction to reach its decision, which results in the removal of an individual’s fundamental liberty interests, contrary to prior cases requiring “strict and literal compliance” with statutes that involve fundamental liberty interests.[13]

- Meghan E. Lewis

[1] Holtcamp v. State, 259 S.W.3d 537 (Mo. 2008) (en banc).
[2] Id. at 538-42 .
[3] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 632.483.1(1) (The department of corrections must give notice to the attorney general “within three hundred sixty days prior to the anticipated release…of a person who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense”).
[4] Holtcamp, 259 S.W.3d. at 542.
[5] Id.
[6] Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 632.480 – 513.
[7] Holtcamp, 259 S.W.3d. at 540.
[8] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 632.480(5) (or "(b)…committed as a criminal sexual psychopath…”)
[9] See, e.g., Commonwealth v. McLeod, 771 N.E.2d 142 (Mass. 2002); In re Detention of Gonzales, 658 N.W.2d 102 (Iowa 2003);
[10] See, e.g., Hale v. State, 891 So.2d 517 (Fla. 2004); In re Detention of Wilber W., 53 P.3d 1145 (Ariz. 2002); In re Civil Commitment of P.Z.H., 873 A.2d 595 (2005).
[11] See Michael Viteolo, Punishing Sex Offenders: When Good Intentions Go Bad, 42 Ariz. St. L. J. 651 (2008); Molly T. Geissenhainer, The $62 Million Question: Is Virginia’s New Center to House Sexually Violent Predators Money Well Spent?, 42 U. Richmond L. Rev. 1301 (2008); Melissa M. Matthews, Comment, Closing the Loophole in California’s Sexually Violent Predator Act: Jessica’s Law’s Band-Aid Will Not Result in Treatment for Sexual Predators, 29 McGeorge L. Rev. 877 (2008).
[12] Holtcamp, 259 S.W.3d. at 543-44. (J. Tietelman, dissenting).
[13] Id. at 543.