PA Supreme Court SVP Analysis: Butler and In re: H.R.

PARSOL Sees Temporary Setback in SVP Cases.

April 5, 2020.

by Josiah.

We have seen two temporary setbacks in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (SCOPA).

 

The recent rulings of Com. v. Joseph D. Butler and In the Interest of: H.R., A Minor left us disappointed. However, we see an opportunity to directly win this battle thanks to, ironically enough, SCOPA which has left gold nuggets in their opinions.

The decision in Com. v. Butler is that the lifetime registration, notification, and counseling requirements (RNC requirements) is applicable to those considered to be a Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) because “the government in this case is concerned with protecting the public […] not from those who have been convicted of certain enumerated crimes, but instead from those who have been found to be dangerously mentally ill” (Butler). This is not entirely accurate because in Title 42 Judiciary and Judicial Procedure, Chapter 97, Subchapter H § 9799.24.(b)(2)(i) we read, “[a]n [SVP] assessment shall include, but not be limited to, an examination of the following: [p]rior offense history, including: [t]he individual’s prior criminal record”. And studies have shown that re-offense rates among those who were convicted of a sexual offense are low. According to a PA Dep. of Corrections recidivism report in 2013, the 2008 re-offense rate in PA was 3.1%. The 7-year re-offense rate in the U.S. was 7.7% (U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2019).

We see a similar situation in In Re: H.R., A Minor. The differences are that Act 21 is for those who are considered to be a Sexually Violent Delinquent Child (SVDC) and establishes civil confinement procedures for them with lifetime counseling requirements. There is an assessment and “procedural due process.” However, the standards for assessment need to be examined and standardized to assure that every recommendation for SVP designation is the result of a robust, evidence-based procedure, and is replicated by at least one additional independent, qualified, licensed forensic psychologist.  The stakes associated with the SVP label are too high.  Without an objective, reliable, and replicable process for SVP determination public safety will not be enhanced and too many of those with the SVP or SVDC designation will be unnecessarily condemned to a life marred with “the mark of Cain.”

There is reason to believe that the recent SCOPA opinions can guide future challenges to SVP and SVDC status by addressing the flaws in the statutory procedures regarding how a person is designated such a status. We hope that SCOPA will sever everything but SVP and SVDC from Sub-chapters H and I in the upcoming decisions of Com. v. George Torsilieri, Com. Claude Lacombe, and Com. v. Michael Witmayer. We might be down but not defeated.

 

"Opportunity often comes in disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat."

- Oliver Napoleon Hill

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