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In re Nelson

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 29, 2017

In the Interest of Danny Robert Nelson
v.
Danny Robert Nelson, Respondent and Appellant Lonnie Olson, State's Attorney, Petitioner and Appellee

         Appeal from the District Court of Ramsey County, Northeast Judicial District, the Honorable Donovan John Foughty, Judge.

          Kari M. Agotness (on brief), Ramsey County State's Attorney, Devils Lake, ND, for petitioner and appellee.

          David D. Dusek (on brief), Grand Forks, ND, for respondent and appellant.

          OPINION

          Kapsner, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Danny Nelson appeals from a district court order civilly committing him as a sexually dangerous individual. He argues the State failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he is a sexually dangerous individual. We conclude the district court's findings are insufficient to demonstrate Nelson is likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct or that he has serious difficulty controlling his behavior. We reverse the district court's order of commitment and direct Nelson be released from civil commitment.

         I

         [¶ 2] Our prior decision in Interest of Nelson, 2017 ND 28, 889 N.W.2d 879, sets forth the relevant facts of this case. The district court entered an order on March 8, 2016 finding Nelson was a sexually dangerous individual and ordering Nelson committed to the State Hospital. Nelson filed a notice of appeal on March 28, 2016. On appeal, we concluded the district court's findings were inadequate to permit appellate review with regard to whether Nelson was likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct and whether Nelson presently has serious difficulty controlling his behavior. Id. at ¶ 14. We retained jurisdiction under N.D.R.App.P. 35(a)(3) and remanded with instructions that the district court make specific findings on whether Nelson is likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct and whether Nelson has a present serious difficulty controlling behavior. Id.

         II

         [¶ 3] "We review civil commitments of sexually dangerous individuals under a modified clearly erroneous standard of review." Matter of Midgett, 2009 ND 106, ¶ 5, 766 N.W.2d 717. "We will affirm the district court's decision unless the court's order is induced by an erroneous view of the law, or we are firmly convinced the order is not supported by clear and convincing evidence." Matter of A.M., 2010 ND 163, ¶ 14, 787 N.W.2d 752 (citations and quotations omitted). This Court gives "great deference to the court's credibility determinations of expert witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony." Matter of Wolff, 2011 ND 76, ¶ 5, 796 N.W.2d 644.

         [¶ 4] Under Chapter 25-03.3 of the North Dakota Century Code, the State has the burden of proving a person is a sexually dangerous individual by clear and convincing evidence. A person may not be committed as a "sexually dangerous individual" unless the State proves the following statutory elements provided in N.D.C.C. § 25-03.3-01(8):

(1) the individual has engaged in sexually predatory conduct, (2) the individual has a congenital or acquired condition that is manifested by a sexual disorder, a personality disorder, or other mental disorder or dysfunction, and (3) the individual's condition makes them likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct which constitute a danger to the physical or mental health or safety of others.

Interest of Johnson, 2016 ND 29, ¶ 3, 876 N.W.2d 25 (citations omitted). This Court has recognized substantive due process requires additional proof beyond the three statutory elements:

In addition to the three statutory requirements, to satisfy substantive due process, the State must also prove the committed individual has serious difficulty controlling his behavior....
We construe the definition of a sexually dangerous individual to mean that proof of a nexus between the requisite disorder and dangerousness encompasses proof that the disorder involves serious difficulty in controlling behavior and suffices to distinguish a dangerous sexual offender whose disorder subjects him to civil ...

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