Massachusetts Appeals Court Ruling Expands Ability of State To Incarcerate Sexually Dangerous Persons

A very interesting case was recently decided by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, on the subject of “sexually dangerous persons.” The decision provided a clearer (and much needed) definition of just what constitutes a “sexually dangerous person,” and the state’s ability to incarcerate such individuals when they have not been found guilty of a crime involving any physical contact with a victim.

The Appeals Court decision, Commonwealth vs. Grant, rejected a Superior Court judge’s earlier decision that a sexual offense which did not result in physical contact or physical harm to a victim, did not qualify as an offense that could subject the offender to being civilly committed as a “sexually dangerous person.” The state statute that governs civil commitment of persons suspected of being sexually dangerous is Massachusetts General Laws C. 123, Section A (“M.G.L. C. 123A”.) That statute allows the commonwealth to keep an individual incarcerated after he or she has been adjudicated guilty of a sexual offense, and/or served a criminal sentence, if such person “suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes such person likely to engage in sexual offenses if not confined to a secure facility; or … whose misconduct in sexual matters indicates a general lack of power to control his sexual impulses, as evidenced by repetitive or compulsive sexual misconduct by either violence against any victim, or aggression against any victim under the age of 16 years, and who, as a result, is likely to attack or otherwise inflict injury on such victims because of his uncontrolled or uncontrollable desires.”

In the instant case, the defendant, one Darren Grant, was about to be released on an earlier conviction for an offense known legally as “Open and Gross Lewdness.” This generally refers to sexually exhibitionism, or exposing oneself in public, and indeed, this particular defendant had been previously convicted of just that offense – on 11 separate occasions. A serial offender, Grant was about to be released after serving jail term for his most recent conviction, when the commonwealth, through the office of Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz, petitioned that Grant be held in incarceration under the civil commitment statute, M.G.L. c. 123A, after he completed his criminal sentence. A Superior Court judge, following a two-day trial on the motion, denied the commonwealth’s request, ruling that Grant’s prior convictions did not involve “physical contact or physical harm” to others, that he was not likely to cause physical harm to others, and that therefore, he could not be civilly committed after his prison term under M.G.L 123A.

The Commonwealth, through Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz, appealed that decision to the state Appeals Court. I’ll explain the important criminal law ruling that followed, and the even more impact it has on the general public in Massachusetts, in my next post.