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U.S. v. PEREZ, NO. 13-6043

Decided: May 15, 2014

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s civil commitment of the defendant to the custody of the United States Attorney General when the district court found that he was a sexually dangerous person under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (“the Act)”, 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a).

Under the Act, the government may civilly commit “sexually dangerous” inmates at the end of their federal prison sentence by filing a certification to this effect with the clerk of court in the district where the inmate is held.  Procedurally, this filing stays the inmate’s release until an evidentiary hearing may be held, and the government proves its case by clear and convincing evidence.  The Act requires that (1) the person has previously “engaged or attempted to engage in . . . child molestation” 18 U.S.C. § 4247(a)(5); (2) the person currently “suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder” 18 U.S.C. § 4247(a)(6); and (3) “the government is required to show that the defendant, as a result of the illness, abnormality, or disorder, ‘would have serious difficulty in refraining from . . .child molestation if released’” 18 U.S.C. § 4247(a)(6).  The Act also sets forth procedural guarantees for each defendant, which include: the right to counsel, the right to testify, right to present evidence, right to subpoena witnesses, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to cross-examine those witnesses.  18 U.S.C. § 4247(d).

On January 6, 2011, the government filed a certification that the defendant, Jose Perez (“Perez”), was a sexually dangerous person under the Act because Perez’s twenty-year federal sentence for transportation of a minor in foreign commerce with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a), and importation of an alien for immoral purposes, 8 U.S.C. § 1328, had almost expired.  The district court denied Perez’s motion to dismiss, and held an evidentiary hearing.  After electing to appear pro se, Perez failed to participate or appear for the evidentiary hearing because he believed it to be unlawful; the hearing continued in his absence.  During the evidentiary hearing, the government presented three forensic psychologists’ expert testimony that relied on individual evaluations of Perez, and his criminal history that involved multiple sexual encounters with minors.  Specifically, Perez’s criminal history includes an incident in September 1970, two incidents in May 1982, an incident in March 1983, and the two incidents in September 1993 that led to his twenty-year sentence.  After reviewing the data, all three experts diagnosed Perez with pedophilia, and agreed that he met the other statutory requirements.  Thus, the district court found that Perez qualified as a sexually dangerous person under the Act.  On appeal, Perez claims that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over him when the government failed to serve him with a summons pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (F.R.C.P.) 4.  Perez also claims that the district court clearly erred when it found that he was a sexually dangerous person under the Act.

After generally noting that the F.R.C.P. apply to civil commitment hearings, the Fourth Circuit found that the procedural requirements in the Act, which require that a copy of the certificate be sent to the defendant, 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a), displaced the Rule 4 summons requirement.  The Court reasoned that the primary functions of service of process were unnecessary in light of the statutory proceeding requirements under the Act.  Then, the Court reviewed the district court’s record for a “definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed,” United States v. Hall, 664 F.3d 456, 462 (4th Cir. 2012), on its finding that Perez was a sexually dangerous person.  The Court found no clear error, and upheld the district court’s order, and commended its careful review of evidence.  Finally, the Court quickly dismissed Perez’s constitutional arguments that the Act deprived him of equal protection under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and imposed an unconstitutional criminal punishment by reiterating its previous decision in United States v. Timms, 664 F.3d 436, 449, 455 (4th Cir. 2012).

Full Opinion

Samantha R. Wilder