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United States v. Francis, No. 12-1205

Decided: July 16, 2012

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the district court did not err in deciding that Sean R. Francis was not a “sexually dangerous person” within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 4248 and therefore was not required to be civilly committed following his prison term.

Sean R. Francis has a twelve year history of placing threatening telephone calls to randomly-selected telephone numbers.  Francis threatened to rape the women who answered the phone, asked them about their sexual behavior, stated he had been watching them, threatened to harm them if they contacted police, and threatened to kill them.  Additionally, Francis has admitted to raping or assaulting 27 female victims, but later recanted these confessions.  Over the course of a decade, he has been imprisoned four times and each time shortly after release has violated the terms of his supervised release.  Before Francis was scheduled for release from prison in February 2010, the government filed a certificate in the district court stating that the Bureau of Prisons had issued a preliminary determination that he was sexually dangerous.  This certificate stayed Francis’ release pending an evidentiary hearing.  At the hearing, Francis testified that he made the threatening phone calls due to his anger at his mother.  His mother had told him when he was 13 years old that she received an upsetting, sexually explicit phone call.  He stated that his parents divorced when he was young, and during high school his mother physically and emotionally abused him.  The hearing also included the testimony of four licensed clinical psychologists.  Two experts presented by the government concluded that Francis was sexually dangerous; two experts presented by Francis testified that he was not.

The government was required to prove three elements by clear and convincing evidence: Francis has engaged in prior sexually violent conduct, Francis suffers from a serious mental illness, and Francis would have serious difficulty restraining from sexually violent conduct if released from custody.  The district court concluded that the government did not prove the final element by clear and convincing evidence, and was ineligible for commitment under the Act.  The Fourth Circuit held that the district court analyzed the evidence in the framework provided in the Act, and affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Full Opinion

-Jennifer Routh