The unit was formed in 1999 in response to legislation that provides for the protection of the general public that may be jeopardized if a certain class of sex offenders, who are in need of sex offender treatment in a secure setting, were released into the community after the expiration of their criminal sentence.
The law is not criminal but rather is civil.
The purpose of the law is not to punish but instead, is intended to provide the convicted sex offender with sex offender treatment in a secure facility.
The unit is responsible for reviewing cases to determine if a convicted sex offender is an appropriate candidate for the application of the statute.
This review process begins when an agency with custody of a person who has been convicted of a sexual offense notifies the District Attorney that the person´s release is anticipated within the next six months. During the review, records of the sex offender are considered, a mental health criterion is applied and an effort is made to determine whether there is reason to believe the convicted sex offender is likely to sexually re-offend in the future.
A petition to civilly commit the person is filed by the District Attorney´s office if the person has the requisite mental condition and a qualified expert opines that the person is reasonably expected to commit a sexual offense unless confined to a secure facility.
After the petition is filed, the court must find that there is probable cause to believe the person has the necessary mental condition and is likely to re-offend.
If the court finds probable cause, the sex offender is committed for evaluation by two experts, who are appointed by the court from a list created by the Department of Corrections.
After the court appointed experts file their reports with the court, the District Attorney´s Office reviews all available information in the case and makes a determination whether to file a motion for trial or a motion to dismiss the petition.
If the District Attorney´s Office brings the case to trial, the district attorney is required to prove unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that the person meets all the criteria for sexual dangerousness as set out in the statute. If the jury or judge finds the individual sexually dangerous, then the individual is committed for treatment for an indeterminate period of a minimum of one day and a maximum of life.
The person committed to the treatment center may file a petition for examination and discharge once in every twelve months.
An advocate in the Sexually Dangerous Person unit provides ongoing support, information and referrals to victims with multiple needs, including, legal assistance, mental health services, medical care, translation services and attending court hearings.
Changes in the Law
In the early morning hours of July 19, 2002, Alexandra Zapp was brutally murdered in a Burger King restroom on Route 24 in Bridgewater. Alexandra did not know the man who stabbed her to death, but the criminal justice system did.
The person convicted of her murder had a long history of violent sexual assaults against women, including raping a woman at knifepoint. In the months prior to the murder of Alexandra Zapp, The District Attorney´s Office tried to have her killer committed as a sexually dangerous person. That petition was dismissed because of a loophole in the law.
Within six days of Alexandra´s murder, District Attorney Cruz moved to close the loopholes in the SDP law.
In March of 2014, legislation was passed to close those loopholes and help keep sexually dangerous predators off of our streets.