Sexually Violent Predator Hearings
In Pennsylvania, if you are determined by the court to be a "sexually violent predator" (SVP) in addition to registering as a sex offender, you will be subject to harsher penalties.
Offenders deemed "sexually violent predators" will be subject to the following requirements in addition to sex offender registration:
- victim notification - the victim will receive written or electronic notice of the offender's address and place of employment.
- community notification - neighbors, schools in the area, and daycare centers in the area will be notified of the offender's name, address, offense, photograph, and a statement that the person is a sexually violent offender.
- lifetime counseling - at a minimum the offender will be required to attend one session per month.
- lifetime registration - an offender classified as a "sexually violent predator" must register as a sex offender for life.
If you are convicted of a sexual offense that requires Megan's law registration under 42 Pa.C.S. §9799.14 the court will order the Sexual Offender's Assessment Board (SOAB) to assess you prior to sentencing. After assessment, if the District Attorney's Office feels that you are a sexually violent offender, they have the power to trigger a hearing held before a judge in the Court of Common Pleas to determine whether you are a sexually violent predator.
A sexually violent predator is a person who is determined by the Court to possess a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the individual likely to engage in predatory sexually violent offenses. Predatory is defined by law as "an act directed at a stranger or person in order to establish a relationship in order to facilitate victimization."
At this hearing the prosecutor must prove by clear and convincing evidence that you are a sexually violent predator.
The Sexual Offender Assessment Board (SOAB)
The Sexual Offender Assessment Board is an independent board of psychiatrists, psychologists and criminal justice experts appointed by the Governor to assess sex offenders convicted of sexually violent offenses. Note that the SOAB or the court cannot compel you to participate in an interview or cooperate. However, under the current law the court can still find that you are a sexually violent offender even if you did not participate in an interview. The board member that assessed you can testify based on the police reports and other information available.
Preparing for the SVP Hearing
At the hearing, the Commonwealth has the burden of proof and will required to produce testimony and evidence first. The Commonwealth will likely call the SOAB board member to the stand as an expert witness and your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine the board member. At this hearing the offender has the right to an attorney and the right to a court appointed psychological expert other than an SOAB board member. If the offender cannot afford an attorney or a psychological expert witness it is mandated that the court appoint the offender these services.
Prior to the hearing, the SOAB member will generate a report based on their assessment of the offender. The board member will testify and the court will consider the following criteria established under 42 Pa.C.S. §9795.1 to determine if the offender is a sexually violent offender:
- Facts of the current offense, including:
- whether the offense involved multiple victims.
- whether the offender exceeded the means necessary to achieve the offense.
- the nature of the sexual contact with the victim
- Relationship of the offender to the victim.
- Age of the victim.
- whether the offense included a display of unusual cruelty by the offender during the commission of the crime.
- the mental capacity of the victim.
- Prior offense history, including:
- The offender's prior criminal record, sexual offenses, and other offenses.
- Whether the offender completed any prior sentences
- whether the offender participated in available programs for sexual offenders.
- Characteristics of the offender, including:
- Age of the offender.
- Use of illegal drugs by the offender.
- any mental illness, mental disability, or mental abnormality.
- Behavioral characteristics that contribute to the offender's conduct.
- Factors that are supported in the sexual offender assessment field as criteria reasonably related to the risk of re-offense.
The court will consider the above criteria and other factors to determine if the offender fits the definition of a sexually violent predator.
If you are charged with a sexual offense and are facing potential registration as a sexually violent predator, it is extremely important to hire an attorney that will fight hard for you. The consequences of an SVP status can last a lifetime. Legally, you cannot revisit your SVP status with the court for another 20 years. Thorough preparation and an aggressive cross examination the Commonwealth's expert witness is the key to success in winning an SVP hearing. In my opinion, many of the cases involve a lack of science and a lot of guesswork by prosecution's expert witness. It is the defense attorney's duty to expose these weaknesses. Also, I highly recommend that you retain a knowledgeable expert witness that has experience assessing and testifying regarding sexually violent predators. Call attorney Jason Antoine at (610) 299-0295 to schedule a free consultation.