Essex County court finds no Sixth Amendment right to self-representation in commitment proceedings under the Sexually Violent Predator Act

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County, ruled in June that there is no constitutional right to self-representation in commitment hearings held pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA). The case, In re Civil Commitment of D.Y.., involved a 52 year old man who was committed as a sexually violent predator after serving time for first degree aggravated sexual assault.


The SVPA provides for the involuntary commitment of any person “who has been convicted… of a sexually violent offense… and suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined to a secure facility for control, care and treatment.” Involuntary commitment requires the state to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the individual poses a threat to the health and safety of others. In this case, the trial court ruled that the prosecution met this standard based on the defendant’s long history of repeated pedophiliac sexual assaults and expert testimony establishing that he was sexually attracted to young males and had anti-social personality disorder. The defendant’s high risk of reoffending was also indicated by his longstanding resistance to treatment and his denial of sexual deviation.


At the defendant’s commitment hearing, his lawyer informed the court that he wished to represent himself. The trial court denied this request, however, because of a provision in the statute requiring defendants to be represented by legal counsel. The defendant argued on appeal that this violated his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation, but the Superior Court disagreed. As the court explained, the right to self-representation applies only to criminal prosecutions and does not extend to civil actions such as commitment proceedings brought under the SVPA.


Even though defendants have the right to represent themselves in criminal proceedings for sex crimes and other offenses, having an attorney is invaluable and can mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. If you’ve been charged with a sexual offense in New Jersey and need a defense attorney to represent you, contact the law firm of Palumbo & Renaud to arrange a free and confidential consultation.