CONSTITUTIONAL LAW

Juvenile Law • Due Process • Equal Protection

In re D.M.W., a Minor, PICS Case No. 14-0300 (Pa. Super. Feb. 14, 2014) Panella, J. (5 pages).

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County that involuntarily committed D.M.W. to a sexual responsibility treatment program for a period of one year.

D.M.W. was adjudicated delinquent in March 2009, after he admitted to committing the offenses of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault and indecent exposure against four victims, three of whom were under the age of thirteen. D.M.W. was then placed in foster care. He was later removed from the foster care program for failing to adjust and was placed in Northwestern Academy for evaluation and treatment. D.M.W. initially made some progress, but was later found to have engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with several of his peers.

At the request of the juvenile probation office, the lower court ordered a review of D.M.W.’s file by the state Sexual Offender’s Assessment Board. Following a hearing, the court found sufficient evidence that D.M.W. was in need of involuntary treatment. The commonwealth filed a petition for involuntary treatment pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. Chapter 64, known as Act 21. Following a hearing, the court determined D.M.W. had a mental abnormality that caused serious difficulty in controlling sexually violent behavior, making him more likely to engage in acts of sexual violence. The court ordered involuntary commitment. D.M.W. moved for reconsideration, which the lower court denied. D.M.W. then filed an appeal.

D.M.W. claimed Act 21 violated his constitutional right to due process, because it required him to choose between two possible forms of coercion. D.M.W. asserted he was required to admit certain damaging information as a condition of his court-ordered placement at Northwestern Academy. As such, he was faced with either violating the conditions of his placement by not cooperating with his therapy, or else complying with his therapy by making inculpatory statements to commonwealth agents who used his statements against him.

The Superior Court noted that D.M.W. did not predicate his argument on the basis of a violation of a patient/psychotherapist privilege. Instead, his argument was that the use of his inculpatory statements in the Act 21 proceeding was fundamentally unfair. The court held such use of inculpatory statements was lawful pursuant to well-established case law. Act 21 embodies the commonwealth’s compelling interest in detaining an individual who poses a clear danger to others. Therefore, the court concluded D.M.W.’s due process argument failed.

D.M.W. also argued Act 21 violated his right to equal protection. The court determined this issue had already been decided to the contrary in In re S.A., 925 A.2d 838 (Pa. Super. 2007). The superior court affirmed the order committing D.M.W. to a treatment program.