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In re R.A.S.

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 27, 2019

In the Matter of R.A.S.,
v.
R.A.S., Respondent and Appellant Birch P. Burdick, Cass County State's Attorney, Petitioner and Appellee

          Appeal from the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven L. Marquart, Judge.

          Opinion of the Court by Crothers, Justice. Leah J. Viste, Assistant State's Attorney, Fargo, ND, for petitioner and appellee.

          Tyler J. Morrow, Grand Forks, ND, for respondent and appellant.

          CROTHERS, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] R.A.S. appeals from a district court order denying his petition for discharge and continuing commitment as a sexually dangerous individual. The order denying R.A.S.'s petition for discharge is reversed for lack of findings sufficient to conclude the due process requirement has been met under Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002).

         I

         [¶2] R.A.S. was convicted of gross sexual imposition in 1991 and sentenced to eight years. In 2001 R.A.S. was convicted of possession of stolen property, and in 2002 assault on a corrections officer. As part of the sentence for the possession of stolen property charge, the district court recommended R.A.S. receive a mental health evaluation. Before his scheduled release in 2004, the State successfully petitioned to commit R.A.S. as a sexually dangerous individual. In 2007 R.A.S. requested his statutory right to review his commitment. The district court found R.A.S. continued to be a sexually dangerous individual. R.A.S. appealed the finding and this Court remanded because there were insufficient findings of fact and the district court used a conclusory statement that the State met its burden of proof. Matter of R.A.S., 2008 ND 185, ¶¶ 7-8, 756 N.W.2d 771. The district court made explicit findings detailing R.A.S.'s conduct and how it related to the criteria for establishing a sexually dangerous individual. We affirmed. Matter of R.A.S., 2009 ND 101, 766 N.W.2d 712. In 2010, 2012, and 2016 R.A.S. petitioned for discharge and did not appeal the district court orders denying his petitions.

         [¶3] On May 2, 2018, R.A.S. requested a discharge hearing under N.D.C.C. § 25-03.3-18. At the January 11, 2019 hearing, a psychologist testified R.A.S. is likely to engage in further acts of sexually predatory conduct based on actuarial tests and review of past conduct. The psychologist testified to a situation where R.A.S. requested a lower prescribed level of medication. The State Hospital agreed and revoked some of R.A.S.'s privileges at the onset of the lower dosage to determine whether the new dosage met his medical needs. R.A.S. protested the revocation of privileges by refusing two doses of his medication, but later agreed to remain on the higher dosage in return for his privileges continuing intact. The psychologist testified R.A.S.'s refusal to twice take the prescribed medication demonstrated his inability to control his behavior.

         [¶4] The district court used this situation as the basis for finding R.A.S. is unable to control his behavior. On January 15, 2019, the district court denied R.A.S.'s application for discharge. R.A.S. timely appealed.

         II

         [¶5] This Court reviews civil commitments of sexually dangerous individuals under a modified clearly erroneous standard, and we will affirm the district court's decision unless it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, or we are firmly convinced the decision is not supported by clear and convincing evidence. Interest of Tanner, 2017 ND 153, ¶ 4, 897 N.W.2d 901. At a discharge hearing, the burden is on the State to prove by clear and convincing evidence the petitioner remains a sexually dangerous individual. N.D.C.C. § 25-03.3-18(4). The State must prove three statutory elements to show the petitioner remains a sexually dangerous individual:

"[1] [the individual] engaged in sexually predatory conduct and [2] . . . has a congenital or acquired condition that is manifested by a sexual disorder, a personality disorder, or other mental disorder or dysfunction [3] 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."

N.D.C.C. § 25-03.3-01(8).

         [¶6] The State also must meet substantive due process requirements by proving the individual has serious difficulty in controlling his behavior. Tanner, 2017 ND 153, ¶ 5, 897 N.W.2d 901. Consistent with the holding in Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002), the definition of a sexually dangerous individual requires "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." Interest of Carter, 2019 ND 67, ¶ 4, 924 N.W.2d 112 (internal quotation marks omitted). Neither our law nor Kansas v. ...


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