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In re Midgett

June 17, 2009

IN THE MATTER OF CHRISTOPHER JAMES MIDGETT
STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA, PETITIONER AND APPELLEE
v.
CHRISTOPHER JAMES MIDGETT, RESPONDENT AND APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Lawrence E. Jahnke, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maring, Justice.

REVERSED AND REMANDED.

[¶1] Christopher James Midgett appeals a district court order denying his petition for discharge from commitment as a sexually dangerous individual. He argues the district court erred in concluding clear and convincing evidence exists establishing he remained a sexually dangerous individual. We conclude the district court did not make sufficient findings of fact, and we reverse and remand for further findings.

I.

[¶2] In March 2007, Midgett was civilly committed as a sexually dangerous individual, and this Court affirmed the district court's commitment order. Matter of Midgett, 2007 ND 198, 742 N.W.2d 803.

[¶3] Midgett petitioned for discharge on February 14, 2008. At an August 20, 2008, discharge hearing, the State and Midgett both presented expert testimony. The State's expert witness, Dr. Lynne Sullivan, testified that Midgett continues to suffer from pedophilia and antisocial personality disorder, has not participated in intensive sex offender treatment, and remains at a high risk of future sexual offending. Dr. Robert G. Riedel testified Midgett did not have impulse control problems and exhibited an ability to control his sexual urges. The district court denied Midgett's request for a discharge, concluding the State had established clear and convincing evidence that Midgett remains a sexually dangerous individual.

[¶4] On appeal, Midgett does not dispute that he previously engaged in sexually predatory conduct, or that he has been diagnosed with disorders that meet the criteria under the second prong of N.D.C.C. § 25-03.3-01. Rather, he argues the State has not establish by clear and convincing evidence that he has a propensity toward sexual violence of such a degree as to pose a threat to others because he has not exhibited violent behavior for approximately thirteen years. He also contends the State has not fulfilled the Kansas v. Crane requirement because it has not established he has serious difficulty controlling his behavior. See Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002). Finally, Midgett asserts he has not been placed in a sex offender treatment program and is being detained to participate in a program that focuses on his cognitive deficiencies.

II.

[¶5] We review civil commitments of sexually dangerous individuals under a modified clearly erroneous standard of review. Matter of G.R.H., 2008 ND 222, ¶ 7, 758 N.W.2d 719. "[W]e affirm a district court order denying a petition for discharge from commitment as a sexually dangerous individual unless it is induced by an erroneous view of the law or we are firmly convinced it is not supported by clear and convincing evidence." Id.

[¶6] At a discharge hearing, the State bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that a committed individual remains a sexually dangerous individual. Id. Under N.D.C.C. § 25-03.3-01(8), the State must prove the individual has:

[E]ngaged in sexually predatory conduct . . . has a congenital or acquired condition that is manifested by a sexual disorder, a personality disorder, or other mental disorder or dysfunction that makes that individual likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct which constitute a danger to the physical or mental health or safety of others.

In addition to the three statutory requirements, the State must prove the committed individual has serious difficulty controlling his behavior in order to satisfy substantive due process. Matter of E.W.F., 2008 ND 130, ¶ 10, 751 N.W.2d 686. In Kansas v. Crane, the United States Supreme Court explained that the civil commitment of a sexually dangerous individual cannot be sustained without determining that the committed individual has a serious difficulty controlling his or her behavior, which suffices to distinguish a sexually dangerous individual from the typical recidivist. Crane, 534 U.S. at 413. The distinction between a sexually dangerous individual and a typical recidivist "is necessary lest `civil commitment' become a `mechanism for retribution or general deterrence' - functions properly those of criminal law, not civil commitment." Id. at 412 (quoting Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346, 372-73 (1997)).

[¶7] Here, the district court determined Midgett suffered from pedophilia and an antisocial personality disorder, presented a high risk for recidivism if not treated, and had yet to begin structured sex offender treatment therapy. However, the district court did not make any findings on whether Midgett has serious difficulty controlling his behavior.

[ΒΆ8] Under N.D.R.Civ.P. 52(a), a district court must "find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law thereon and direct the entry of the appropriate judgment." In Matter of R.A.S., 2008 ND 185, ...


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