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No Need for Civil Commitment Warning in Plea Bargain

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held this week that a judge is not required to inform a child pornography defendant that his plea bargain could lead to civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person at the end of his prison term.

According to the appellate court, due process and Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure do not require the district court to advise a defendant of the possibility.

In 2008, Mark Allen Youngs waived indictment and pleaded guilty to producing child pornography and possessing child pornography. At his plea hearing, the district court reviewed in detail the plea agreement with Youngs and the various rights set forth in Rule 11.

As a part of this review, the court described the minimum and maximum sentences of imprisonment, the supervised release term that Youngs faced, the forfeiture of his computer equipment, and his obligations under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act following his release from incarceration. Youngs responded that he understood all of these consequences.

On appeal, Youngs argued that his plea was defective because the district court did not advise him of the possibility of civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person at the end of his prison term.

The Supreme Court has concluded that a defendant can make an intelligent and voluntary guilty plea satisfying due process if he is "fully aware of the direct consequences" of a guilty plea. Precedent in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, however, holds that certain possible consequences of a guilty plea are "collateral" rather than direct and don't have to be explained. Thus, district courts need not inform a defendant of collateral consequences during the plea colloquy.

Here, the Second Circuit concluded that the possibility of post-prison civil commitment was a collateral consequence that didn't warrant explanation during the plea colloquy because civil commitment is not "definite, immediate, and largely automatic."

While civil commitment doesn't meet the criteria of a direct consequence, continued incarceration seems like a pretty extreme collateral consequence. Is this a grey area that should be analyzed under a new set of standards?

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