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In re Joseph

Supreme Court of North Dakota

March 13, 2019

In the Interest of William Joseph Carter
v.
William Joseph Carter, Respondent and Appellant State of North Dakota, Petitioner and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Stutsman County, Southeast Judicial District, the Honorable Cherie L. Clark, Judge.

          Joseph K. Nwoga (argued), Assistant State's Attorney, and Frederick R. Fremgen (on brief), State's Attorney, Jamestown, N.D., for petitioner and appellee.

          Tyler J. Morrow, Grand Forks, N.D., for respondent and appellant.

          OPINION

          TUFTE, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] William Carter appeals from a district court order denying discharge from commitment as a sexually dangerous individual. On appeal, he argues the State failed to establish that he is likely to reoffend or that he has serious difficulty controlling his behavior. We affirm the district court's order.

         I

         [¶2] Carter was convicted of gross sexual imposition in 2004. In 2007, the district court ordered Carter's commitment as a sexually dangerous individual to the Department of Human Services. In February 2017, Carter filed motions requesting a discharge hearing and appointment of an independent examiner. Dr. Erik Fox, the State's evaluator, filed a report in May and an addendum to that report in September. Dr. Fox's initial recommendation was for post community placement; however, the addendum rescinded that recommendation as a result of new information Dr. Fox received during the summer of 2017. Dr. Stacey Benson, the independent examiner, also filed a report. The discharge hearing was held March 19, 2018. On appeal, Carter argues the State failed to meet its burden to prove that he is likely to engage in sexually predatory conduct and that he has difficulty controlling his behavior.

         II

         [¶3] This Court reviews "civil commitments of sexually dangerous individuals under a modified clearly erroneous standard of review." Interest of Nelson, 2017 ND 152, ¶ 3, 896 N.W.2d 923. We will affirm the district court order unless it is "induced by an erroneous view of the law, or we are firmly convinced the order is not supported by clear and convincing evidence." Id. "When reviewing the district court's order, this Court gives 'great deference to the court's credibility determinations of expert witnesses and the weight to be given their testimony.'" Matter of Kulink, 2018 ND 260, ¶ 3, 920 N.W.2d 446 (internal citations omitted). To be committed as a sexually dangerous individual, a person must meet three statutory elements under 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 [the 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.

Nelson, at ¶ 4. "In addition to the three statutory requirements, . . . the State must also prove the committed individual has serious difficulty controlling his behavior." Id. (quoting Matter of Wolff, 2011 ND 76, ¶ 7, 796 N.W.2d 644). The United States Supreme Court did not give the phrase "lack of control" a particularly narrow or technical meaning, nor is "inability to control behavior" demonstrable with mathematical precision. Kulink, at ¶ 4 (quoting Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 412-13 (2002)). Although not mathematically precise, the proof of "inability to control behavior . . . must be sufficient to distinguish the dangerous sexual offender whose serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder subjects him to civil commitment from the dangerous but typical recidivist convicted in an ordinary criminal case." Crane, at 413. Thus, a "connection [must be found] between the disorder and the individual's inability to control" his actions. Nelson, at ¶ 4.

         [¶4] The North Dakota statute "incorporates the Crane requirement in its definition of sexually dangerous individual." Kulink, 2018 ND 260, ¶ 5, 920 N.W.2d 446. We interpret the definition to require "proof of a nexus between the requisite disorder and dangerousness to encompass proof that the disorder involves serious difficulty in controlling behavior and suffices to distinguish a dangerous sexual offender whose disorder subjects him to civil commitment from the dangerous but typical recidivist in the ordinary criminal case." Id. The State must prove each of the three elements plus the Crane factor by clear and convincing evidence. Id. Only element three and the Crane factor are at issue here.

         III

         [¶5] This Court has "recognized the phrase 'likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct' under N.D.C.C. § 25-03.3-01(8), 'means the individual's propensity towards sexual violence is of such a degree as to pose a threat to others.'" Interest of Tanner, 2017 ND 153, ΒΆ 6, ...


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