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What is civil commitment?

While arguably all consequences associated with a criminal conviction are undesirable, those pertaining to sex crimes can be particularly harsh. Even once a prison sentence has been served, in the state of Virginia a convicted offender could face additional time behind bars under the state’s civil commitment program.

The Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act in Virginia could be applied when someone is convicted of multiple sexual offenses including, but not limited to:

  • Forcible sodomy
  • Rape
  • Aggravated sexual battery
  • Abduction of any person with intent to defile such person
  • Carnal knowledge of a child between 13 and 15 years of age

Not everyone convicted of a crime of this nature will face the civil commitment process. Instead, the Department of Corrections reviews each individual when he or she has 10 months of the sentence left. If the score of an actuarial instrument determines that there is a high risk that the prisoner might re-offend sexually, the Commitment Review Committee will receive his or her records. The Attorney General is provided the CRCs recommendations and determines whether a petition will be filed.

When they are, the circuit court that convicted the person of the criminal offense holds a probable cause hearing. Whether the person will be deemed by the court to be a sexually violent predator will depend of how the following is answered:

  • Was the person convicted of a qualifying sexually violent offense?
  • Does the person have a hard time controlling predatory behavior as a result of a personality disorder or mental abnormality?

Depending on how these questions are answered, the circuit judge will determine whether the individual should be conditionally released or civilly committed.

When someone is civilly committed they can have their case reviewed each year for the first five years. Following that, a statutory review hearing occurs every two years. On the off years, the person deemed to be a sexually violent predator might file a petition to be released.

These arguably harsh consequences could take some by surprise. The best way to avoid this completely is to avoid a conviction in the first place. The best way to do this is to engage the assistance of a criminal defense lawyer when the charges are initially leveled.

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