Civil Commitment as a Sexually Dangerous Person

A person convicted any one of the enumerated sex crimes in Massachusetts may be subject to be civilly committed as a 'sexually dangerous person'.  Massachusetts General Laws chapter 123A, section 12, permits any agency who has jurisdiction over a person who has been convicted of a sexual offense, or has been found incompetent to stand trial for a sex crime, to petition the district attorney's office to file proceedings seeking to have that person committed beyond the term of his current prison sentence as a sexually dangerous person.

The term 'person convicted' includes not only adults who have been convicted of and sentenced to state prison for a sex crime, but also juveniles who have been found 'delinquent' or a 'youthful offender'.

If the Commonwealth has reason to believe the person convicted is likely to re-offend, it will then file a petition in the Superior Court alleging the person is a 'sexually dangerous person'.  These petitions are filed either in the county where the person is committed, or in the county were the sex crime was committed.

Once the petition for civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person is filed in the superior court, a judge determines whether the Commonwealth's allegations meet the standard of probable cause to believe the person is sexually dangerous. The person who is the subject of this petition must be provided notice and have an opportunity to appear and contest the allegations.

Persons who are the subject of sexually dangerous person civil commitment proceedings have several rights at the probable cause hearing, including:
  1. to have an attorney represent him;
  2. to present evidence contesting the allegations;
  3. cross-examine any witnesses;
  4. examine all reports and petitions in the file.

Generally, the petitions for civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person are filed in the months leading to the person's release date from confinement.  In the event the person is scheduled to be released from jail/prison prior to the probable cause hearing in the superior court, a judge may temporarily commit him to a treatment center until the petition is dismissed or otherwise adjudicated.

If a finding of probable cause is made, the person convicted has a right to a jury trial to determine if he is a 'sexually dangerous person'.  Based on the evidence presented, the jury (or if the person elects to waive a jury and have a judge decide) would have to unanimously agree, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the person is sexually dangerous.

If after trial, a person is determined to be 'sexually dangerous', he is then committed to a treatment center for an indefinite period.  This means that he could be committed for as little as one day or for the rest of his life.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has addressed the issue of whether a person previously convicted of only non-contact sexual offenses may be civilly committed as a 'sexually dangerous person'. It has held that he can, provided that, based on the person's history of committing non-contact sexual offenses and his predictive likelihood of committing non-contact sexual offenses to a degree that makes him a menace to the health and safety of other persons.

What the court means by 'menace' is that the Commonwealth must prove that the predicted sexual offenses of the defendant will instill in victims a reasonable apprehension of being subjected to a contact sex crime.  A generalized fear or other psychological harm, such as shock or alarm, however, is not enough.

Ultimately, persons charged with any sex crime, particularly those persons who have multiple sex crime convictions, should consider very seriously the potential consequences of being found guilty of any sex crimes.  Aside from the potential of commitment to state prison and sex offender registration, civil commitment as a 'sexually dangerous person' is as important a consideration to take into account when charged with a sex crime.

Below is a partial list of examples of those offenses that may serve as a predicate for civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person:

  • Indecent Assault & Battery on a Child Under 14
  • Aggravated Indecent Assault & Battery on a Child Under 14
  • Indecent Assault & Battery on a Mentally Retarded Person
  • Indecent Assault & Battery on a Person Over 14
  • Rape of a Child Under 16 with Force
  • Aggravated Rape of a Child Under 16 with Force
  • Assault with Intent to Commit Rape
  • Assault on a Child with Intent to Commit Rape
  • Kidnapping with Intent to Commit Rape
  • Enticing Away a Person for Prostitution or Sexual Intercourse
  • Drugging Persons for Sexual Intercourse
  • Inducing a Person Under 18 into Prostitution
  • Deriving Support of a Minor Prostitute
  • Open and Gross Lewdness and Lascivious Behavior
  • Incestuous Intercourse Involving a Person Under 21
  • Dissemination or Possession with Intent to Disseminate to a Minor Material Harmful to a Minor
  • Posing or Exhibiting a Child in a State of Nudity
  • Dissemination of Visual Material of a Child in a State of Nudity or Sexual Conduct
  • Unnatural and Lascivious Acts with a Child Under 16
  • Accosting or Annoying Persons of the Opposite Sex
  • Lewd, Wanton and Lascivious Speech or Behavior

Boston Sex Crimes Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Sex Crimes Charges.

Click Here to Contact a Massachusetts Sex Crimes Lawyer or call 617-325-9500.