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In re Thill

Supreme Court of North Dakota

April 29, 2014

In the Interest of Maurice Robert Thill
v.
Maurice Robert Thill, Respondent and Appellant Brian D. Grosinger, Assistant State's Attorney, Petitioner and Appellee

Appeal from the District Court of Morton County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable Thomas J. Schneider, Judge.

Brian D. Grosinger, Assistant State's Attorney, Mandan, N.D., for petitioner and appellee.

Kent M. Morrow, Bismarck, N.D., for respondent and appellant.

Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by McEvers, Justice. Carol Ronning Kapsner, concurred in the result.

OPINION

Page 331

McEvers, Justice.

[¶1] Maurice Robert Thill appeals from a district court order denying his petition for discharge from civil commitment as a sexually dangerous individual. We affirm, concluding the district court did not err in finding Thill remains a sexually dangerous individual.

I

[¶2] In August 2012, the district court found Thill was a sexually dangerous individual and committed him to the custody of the director of the Department of Human Services. In April 2013, Thill filed a petition for discharge with the district court and requested a hearing. Dr. Robert Lisota, a licensed psychologist at the North Dakota State Hospital, completed an annual re-evaluation of Thill. Dr. Lisota recommended Thill's continued commitment because he remains a sexually dangerous individual who has serious difficulty controlling his behavior and is likely to engage in future sexually predatory conduct. The court also appointed Dr. Stacey Benson, a licensed clinical psychologist, to complete an independent evaluation of Thill. Dr. Benson, who had also completed an evaluation of Thill at the time of his initial commitment, again evaluated Thill and opined that he no longer remains a sexually dangerous individual.

[¶3] In August 2013, the district court held a discharge hearing on Thill's petition and heard testimony from both Dr. Lisota and Dr. Benson. Both experts' reports were made part of the record. Thill also testified on his own behalf. After the hearing, the court denied his petition for discharge. The court found Thill continues to be a sexually dangerous individual and ordered his continued commitment.

II

[¶4] This Court reviews the civil commitment of a sexually dangerous individual under a modified clearly erroneous standard of review. In re Hehn, 2013 ND 191, ¶ 7, 838 N.W.2d 469; In re Graham, 2013 ND 171, ¶ 9, 837 N.W.2d 382. We will affirm the district court's order denying a petition for discharge 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. Hehn, at ¶ 7; Graham, at ¶ 9. In reviewing the order, we give " great deference to the court's credibility determinations of expert witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony." In re Wolff, 2011 ND 76, ¶ 5, 796 N.W.2d 644. We have explained that the district court is " the best credibility evaluator in cases of conflicting testimony and we will not second-guess the court's credibility determinations." Id.

Page 332

[¶5] At a discharge hearing, the State must prove by clear and convincing evidence the committed individual remains a " sexually dangerous individual." N.D.C.C. § 25-03.3-18(4); Hehn, 2013 ND 191, ¶ 8, 838 N.W.2d 469. To prove a committed individual remains a " sexually dangerous ...


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