EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Expert Commitment: New Jersey Appellate Court Affirms Civil Commitment Based Upon Reasonable Expert Reliance

New Jersey Rule of Evidence 703 indicates that

[t]he facts or data in the particular case upon which an expert bases an opinion or inference may be those perceived by or made known to the expert at or before the hearing. If of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field in forming opinions or inferences upon the subject, the facts or data need not be admissible in evidence.

And because the experts in In re Civil Commitment of W.X.C., 2009 WL 17505433 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2009), relied upon inadmissible evidence that is nonetheless reasonably relied upon by experts in their field in forming opinions, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division affirmed W.T.C.'s commitment to the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center for sex offender treatment.

In In re Civil Commitment of W.X.C.,

[t]he crimes that led to W.X.C.'s...commitment all took place in 1992 when W.X.C. was twenty-five years old. W.X.C. burglarized his first victim's home twice when she was not in the house. On April 17, 1992, W.X.C. entered the home for a third time and, at knifepoint, raped the victim, a young woman. After committing the assault, W.X.C. demanded money and, when the victim had none, stole her VCR. According to various psychological reports, W.X.C. found it sexually exciting to be in the victim's home during the first two burglaries, even while she was not there.

On June 4, 1992, W.X.C. entered another home, this time using a key he had found outside, and raped a woman after telling her he had a gun. W.X.C. then made her drive him to an ATM machine, where he forced her to withdraw and give him approximately $600. He also stole two of the victim's rings. On October 22, 1992, W.X.C. entered a rest home and overpowered a female employee. He dragged her into an empty bedroom and demanded that she perform an oral sex act on him. The police were called and W.X.C. attempted to flee but was apprehended.

At W.X.C.'s civil commitment hearing, only two witnesses testified, Dr. Brian Friedman and Dr. Evan Feibusch.

Dr. Friedman testified that in rendering his opinion, he reviewed “all of the police documents, investigation reports, presentence reports, Judgments of Conviction, [and] victim statements.” He also examined W.X.C.'s statement to police, his prison records, and “reports completed over the years by different evaluators....” Dr. Friedman diagnosed W.X.C. with antisocial personality disorder [and]...paraphilia NOS (non-consenting)....

Dr. Feibusch [also] based his opinion on various psychological reports prepared on prior occasions, police reports, and clinical risk assessment tests....Dr. Feibusch [also] diagnosed W.X.C. with antisocial personality disorderparaphilia NOS, and possibly sexual sadism.

After he was committed, W.X.C. appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the testimony of these doctors was improperly admitted because it was based upon inadmissible data, such as the "evaluations prepared by non-testifying experts."  The court disagreed, finding that their testimony was admissible under New Jersey Rule of Evidence 703 because

[h]ere, the testifying experts relied on reports concerning W.X.C.'s mental health, his criminal history, police reports, and clinical tests in rendering their opinions. Both doctors testified that these sources of information were of the type typically relied upon by experts in performing risk assessment. The trial judge considered the experts' opinions, but did not allow the "wholesale and uncritical admission of prior forensic evaluations."...To the contrary, she properly used the hearsay reports "as background in evaluating the opinions of the ... experts, who testified that they considered these reports in reaching their own diagnoses."



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