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Attorney General of Virginia

Sexually Violent Predators Civil Commitment Section

In 1999, the Virginia General Assembly created a process for committing for inpatient treatment those individuals who have committed “sexually violent offenses” and who, based on established criteria, are found by a court to be likely to reoffend. The process is administered by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (“DBHDS”) Office of Sexually Violent Predator Services, and is driven by psychological evaluations performed by licensed clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. Circuit courts are ultimately responsible for determining whether an individual should be committed for inpatient sex offender treatment.

The Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act, (“SVP Act”), is found in Virginia Code § 37.2-900 et seq. The SVP Act applies to 1) prisoners in the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) who are incarcerated for sexually violent offenses who are nearing their release date and 2) defendants who have been charged with sexually violent offenses and found unrestorably incompetent to stand trial by a court.

Offenders are initially screened by the DOC using an evidenced-based protocol approved by DBHDS and DOC.  Based on the results of the screening, those offenders who are deemed likely to reoffend are referred for a psychological evaluation conducted by a licensed clinical psychologist or licensed psychiatrist and more intensive screening and review by an interagency committee.  This committee includes representatives from the DOC, DBHDS, including a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist, and a representative from the Office of the Attorney General.  At the completion of its review, the committee makes a recommendation as to whether the Commonwealth should file a petition in one of the circuit courts of the Commonwealth seeking to civilly commit the offender.

If a petition for civil commitment is filed, a probable cause hearing will be held in the circuit court within 90 days.  If a judge finds probable cause to believe the offender is a sexually violent predator, a trial will be conducted within 120 days.  If a judge or jury finds that an offender is a sexually violent predator, the circuit court then decides whether to civilly commit the offender for inpatient treatment or release him or her under certain conditions.  The Commonwealth has the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the offender is a sexually violent predator and requires secure inpatient treatment.

At all hearings and trials, the offender is afforded certain rights and protections including the right to receive adequate notice of the proceeding, to court appointed counsel, to remain silent or testify, to be present during the hearing or trial, to present evidence and to cross-examine witnesses.   In addition, the offender is entitled to a court appointed qualified psychologist or psychiatrist to assist at trial.

Offenders who are civilly committed are placed in a secure, intensive, inpatient sex offender treatment program at a facility run by DBHDS.  If civilly committed, the offender is entitled to an annual review hearing every year for the first five years and every two years thereafter. At each review, the court must decide whether the offender remains a sexually violent predator and whether he or she remains in need of secure inpatient treatment.  The offender is entitled to the assistance of a court appointed expert for the annual review hearings.

If the court determines that an offender may be conditionally released from the inpatient treatment program, the offender is monitored in accordance with a conditional release plan developed by DBHDS and approved by the court.  Supervision includes the use of a GPS monitor, and direct supervision by a probation and parole officer who files reports with the court on an offender’s behavior and compliance at least every 6 months.  If an offender on conditional release violates the terms and conditions of release, the offender may be taken into custody, have their conditional release revoked, and ultimately be civilly committed to an inpatient facility of DBHDS.