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N.C. Man Wins Civil Commitment Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on July 17, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals hears a number of civil commitment proceedings appeals, thanks largely to the fact that the Federal Correctional Institute in Butner, North Carolina (FCI-Butner) already had an established sex offender treatment program in 2006 when the civil commitment procedure was adopted as part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.

Civil commitment proceedings are not simply a rubber-stamp process; the government must prove through clear and convincing evidence that an offender is a sexually dangerous person who would have serious difficulty refraining to sexually-violent conduct if released. The result, according to USA Today, is that sexual predators are rarely committed through the process.

Monday, another civil commitment candidate won an appeal in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, after the appellate court found that the government failed to meet its burden in its civil commitment case against him.

The government initiated civil commitment proceedings against Sean R. Francis after certifying that Francis, who had numerous criminal convictions based on his repeated conduct of placing threatening and obscene telephone calls, was a "sexually dangerous person."

After an evidentiary hearing, the district court determined that Francis was not eligible for commitment, because the government failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Francis would have serious difficulty refraining from sexually violent conduct if released.

On appeal, the government argued that the district court erred by failing to make necessary factual findings regarding Francis' prior sexually violent conduct and by failing to determine whether Francis presently suffers from a qualifying mental condition under the relevant statutes. The government claimed that the district court improperly based its decision on an "abstract determination" that Francis was unlikely to commit new offenses of a sexually violent nature.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that the district court appropriately considered the elements required for civil commitment, and did not clearly err in determining that the government failed to meet its burden of proof.

Whether or not you support civil commitment, at least the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals isn't locking up offenders with reckless abandon.

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