Florida Court Discusses Involuntary Commitment of Sexual Violent Predators

In some instances in which a criminal defendant suffering from a mental health condition is convicted of a sex crime, rather than sentencing the defendant to incarceration, the court will involuntarily commit the defendant. A defendant that is involuntarily committed is entitled to a yearly mental health evaluation, though, and if the court finds that a defendant should be released, the involuntary commitment will end. The grounds for ending an involuntary commitment were recently discussed in a Florida case in which an appellate court overturned the lower court ruling. If you suffer from a mental health condition and are charged with a sex crime, it is wise to consult a dedicated Tampa sex crime defense attorney to discuss whether you may be able to avoid a conviction.

Facts and Procedural History of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with numerous counts of sexual battery and rape. Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted and deemed a sexually violent predator. It was determined that the defendant was suffering from a mental health condition as well. Thus, he was involuntarily committed under the Florida Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act (the Act). The defendant appealed his involuntary commitment, which was affirmed by the appellate court. Pursuant to the Act, the defendant underwent an annual review of his mental health in 2019.

Allegedly, at a limited probable cause hearing, the defendant’s expert testified that it was safe to release the defendant and that he was not likely to commit acts of sexual violence. At a subsequent non-jury trial, the State’s witness testified that she examined the defendant on numerous occasions and that his mental condition had changed, and he no longer posed a risk of sexual violence. The court nonetheless continued the defendant’s commitment, finding that his condition had not changed. Thus, the defendant appealed.

Discharge from Involuntary Commitment Under Florida Law

Under the Act, when a defendant who was involuntarily committed demonstrates probable cause to warrant a release and a full trial is held, the State bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s mental condition remains unchanged so that it is unsafe to release the defendant into the public domain. The State must also prove that if the defendant is released from voluntary commitment, he or she will probably engage in acts of sexual violence.

Upon review of the lower court ruling, the appellate court noted that the State only presented one witness at the trial, who recommended that the defendant be released due to the fact that he no longer met the criteria for an involuntary civil commitment. The appellate court explained that under Florida law, a court could not reject unrefuted expert testimony without offering a reasonable explanation for doing so, like conflicting evidence or the impeachment of the expert. As the lower court did not demonstrate a valid reason for rejecting the State’s expert witness’s testimony, the appellate court reversed the lower court ruling.

Meet with a Seasoned Tampa Attorney

If you are a Tampa resident accused of committing a sex crime, it is advisable to contact an attorney to discuss your rights. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a seasoned Tampa sex crime defense attorney who will advocate aggressively on your behalf, to help you strive for the best legal outcome available under the facts of your case. You can contact Mr. Hanlon via the online form or at 813-228-7095 to set up a consultation.

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