The New York State civil commitment process under Article 10 is a long arduous road to begin with. I’ve had a pretty tough time. Others have had it far worse. But here’s my story.
In March 2008, after serving almost 9 years of a 10 year bid, I was ready to go home. I’d received my good time, signed my parole papers and was assigned an address and a P.O. I was concerned with this new Article 10 law, so earlier that year I’d talked to my counselor about it. She said I had nothing to worry about. They would have contacted her already.
I’d asked the counselor for treatment materials and updated my relapse prevention plan. My sister had gone out and bought parole clothes. My family was waiting for me.
Then 2 weeks before my release date, it all came crashing down. I was told to pack up, I was being transferred. I thought maybe they were moving me closer to home for release into the community. But in the back of my mind, I was worried about civil commitment.
This new prison was not closer to home and I soon realized my worst fears were coming true. I was there to be evaluated and start the civil commitment process.
At my last prison, I lived in relative obscurity. In this place, the COs told everyone my crime. I was harassed and abused but I rose above it and endured.
The psychiatric evaluator lied to me from the start. Told me I wasn’t allowed to have a lawyer present and even if I did, they would have to stand at the window facing the other way.
He put on a happy facade, then lied about me in his report.
Weeks later, my lawyer finally shows up. But it was too late. We were playing catch up. The damage was done. To top it all off, I signed my parole release papers. I was officially on parole in prison. Talk about an oxymoron.
To avoid the abuse in prison, I put in for a change of venue and was transferred closer to home. It was a brief reprieve. I reunited with friends in prison and family outside that I hadn’t seen in years.
Based on the doctor’s lies and my history, the judge found probable cause to hold me. The summer of fun, family and friends was over. I was moved to a psychiatric facility 4 hours from home. Court trips went from 1 hour to 8 hours round trip.
About that court process. Remember court? It took a year to get to trial. There are 2 parts to this trial once it starts. The first part is to determine if I have a “mental abnormality”. If found to have one, the second part is to decide if I go home on Strict and Intensive Supervision and Treatment (SIST), or stay locked up for at least another year.
In 2009, I was set to go to trial. Staff showed up 3 days early, telling me I was going to county jail to be held for trial. The Order to Produce said I was to be transported back and forth daily.
So I didn’t go. 3 months later, the confusion was sorted out and we went to trial.
During the trial, the judge calls the lawyers into chambers and says, “I’m going to give this guy SIST”. He wanted me to plead to a mental abnormality to speed the process along. So I took the plea.
In the 2 months between then and the next hearing, News articles came out about a sex offender released by my judge, who was having problems finding a place to live.
The community was complaining of residency restrictions. This was no fault of the individual. Parole put him in these places. But politicians, the Assistant Attorney General (AAG), and parole got involved and were quoted as saying that the judge created the problem by releasing him.
The truth was that a bunch of NIMBYs raised the issue of parole’s inability to house sex offenders and the judge became the scapegoat.
So I went back to court. I knew something was wrong when the bailiff stood near me. He’d never done that before. Then the judge committed me. Everyone was shocked. Including the lawyers. My pregnant sister was crying. I was crying. I asked him, “why judge, did you change your mind?”
The judge waffled. He said he didn’t change his mind as much as he was persuaded by the SIST report that I was too dangerous to be released. There was nothing in that report that was any different then the ones he read at trial.He’d made a political decision.
After the judge left, I was a crying mess as I apologized to my victim’s mom and told my sister I didn’t know what was going on.
Here’s the part that makes me sick. When I refused to go to court the first time because of the transport snafu, I think I also refused my freedom. Up until then, this judge had been releasing everyone on SIST. The guy who appeared before him 2 weeks after my refusal, went home and stayed home. If I’d just went to the county jail…
I fought to take my plea back. I’d been lied to by the judge. There were motions and conferences and phone calls.The AAG and judge had an argument on open court over this. A chambers conference was changed to the courtroom because the AAG requested a stenographer. Can you blame her. She’d been lied to in chambers.
At a hearing 4 months later, the judge said he only “indicated” SIST. There was no promise of SIST. He vacated his decision. I’d won the battle but not the war. This was in December. Merry Christmas.
The order wasn’t actually signed until February of 2010. The case was reopened in March. Motions were filed. More News articles appeared. Some about me. Some about sex offenders living in Niagara Falls, where I’d be living if released.
We finally got into court in June. No one testified. He dismissed my motions for dismissal. Reports were submitted as testimony. We couldn’t cross examine anyone. Then I waited. Months passed. Another article about sex offenders living in Niagara Falls.
I was told to be patient by my lawyer. We had a newly elected Attorney General who seemed to be against Civil commitment. That might sway the judge’s opinion.
Nearly a year later, May 2011, the judge renders a decision committing me again. Just one problem. The second hearing. Remember the second hearing? Well, the judge didn’t. We never had one. This decision was supposed to be on a mental abnormality only. A second hearing should have been conducted to determine for SIST or confinement.
More motions were filed. Another News article. A sex offender from my home town was suing the city to live there. The city had harsher restrictions than parole or the state. This was happening all over the state.
Another News article. The guy who couldn’t find a place to live was violated and placed on SIST “again” by the judge. I thought was a good sign.
I agreed not to put our doctor on the stand because his report was bad and didn’t recommend SIST. It was riddled with inaccuracies and lies. And the lawyer said we couldn’t “impeach” our own witness.
A second hearing finally, in October 2011. I testified well. Even the AAG thought so. The judge wasted no time this time. I was committed a third time, 2 weeks later.
We spent over a year just trying to start the appeals process. The appeals court wouldn’t accept the judge’s decision because it didn’t say “so ordered”. Then they wouldn’t accept the third order for some other wording issues. Then they wouldn’t accept 2 poor person motions.
March 2013. I’ve officially completed 5 years of parole behind razor wire. And my appeals finally start. New lawyer. I never meet him in person but he always takes and returns my calls. He was my lawyer long enough to receive 2 Christmas cards from him.
My first appeal was denied. My appeal to state supreme court was denied. My appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court wasn’t heard.
2 years later, in April 2015, my appeals were exhausted.
In the meantime, my annual review process had started, sort of. Once committed, we can appear before a judge every year for release. This process has become so bogged down that people are getting them every year and a half to 2 years. It requires 2 more doctor’s reports and more motions and hearings. Oh, and your clock starts from the time of your last decision.
Let’s say you’re set for an annual review in November 2017. After your assigned a lawyer, get your doctor’s reports and get everyone to agree on a court date, it could be July of 2018 before you get into court. Then the judge can take as long as he wants to render a decision. It’s not unheard of to wait a year for a decision. But let’s be generous. Let’s say 4 months later in November of 2018. He commits you. Or re-commits you. You are next eligible for an annual review in November 2019. 2 years after you were eligible the last time.
In March 2014, I was appointed another lawyer. I now had 2. One for appeals, one for annual review. This guy was great, gung-ho and ready for trial. Unfortunately, there would be no trial until my appeals were exhausted. It wasn’t meant to be anyway. He got a clerkship with a newly elected family court judge in December.
I was appointed a new lawyer in January 2015. I spent that year trying to contact him and the courts with no response from either. Then I filed a grievance with the grievance committee of New York State. It took months just to find out there was one. Magically, things started happening.
His excuse was basically, “my bad, didn’t think his case was as important, but I should have responded.”
I got a new lawyer in December. Then my judge retired. I spent another year waiting. For a judge to be appointed, for doctors to be chosen, for communications problems with this lawyer. Another grievance and an appearance before the judge to work that out.
It’s now February of 2017. I still have to see the AG’s doctor and the courts are scheduled into late summer already. Maybe I’ll have an “annual” review 6 “years” after the judges initial decision.
That’s my story. Thanks for your time. And I hope you’re doing better than I am. Stay strong.
By Michael (Chucky) Bass, Marcy, New York