Tuesday, January 05, 2021

In re William Morse (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 5, 2021)

I don't know why this particular opinion had the effect on me that it did.  After all, I've read a lot of SVP (sexually violent predator) opinions.  This one's not really any different.  Someone's attracted to kids, gets caught, serves his time in prison, and then the state moves to keep him restrained -- essentially forever -- on the grounds that he's going to do it again.  And, typically, he's indeed found to be an SVP, he appeals, and the Court of Appeal affirms.

That's indeed exactly what happens here.  For logical reason.  I have little doubt that William Morse is indeed a pedophile.  I have little doubt that, if released, he's likely going to try to do something untoward with a kid again.  Given those predicate facts, this is not someone who I much want out on the streets.  Not in Octotillo, California, or anywhere else.  (Perhaps stereotypically, many of the offenses here happened in a trailer park; indeed, Mr. Morse was the caretaker of the park.)

Okay.  All makes sense.  As I said, there are tons of these opinions.  Not an unusual reaction.

Yet for some inexplicable reason, the concept of preventative detention here -- keeping someone in a "hospital" (essentially incarcerated) -- just seemed either palpably wrong or dramatically underutilized.

Am I confident that Mr. Morse will reoffend?  Yes.  Am I equally confident, when I read other opinions, that a plethora of other defendants will also reoffend?  Definitely.  Maybe even more so.  I bet there are hundreds of thousands of people in California alone where I could read their criminal history (which is essentially all we're doing in this opinion) and say with extraordinary confidence that, if released, they will definitely continue to commit their particular criminal iterations.  They've got massive impulse control and/or alcohol problems and will undoubtedly commit assault again.  Drug offenses.  Theft.  Domestic violence.  There are legions of crimes and criminals that we just know are going to reoffend once they've served their time and get out of prison.  Knowledge that's at least as certain (if not greater) than the knowledge that we have in this case.

So why don't we lock them up as well?

It can't be because they've served their prison time and thus deserve another chance, because that's true for SVPs as well.  It can't be because we might be wrong about a portion of them and it'd accordingly be unjust or unfair to institutionalize them because, again, that's equally true for SVPs.  Nor do I think one can legitimately uniquely label the crimes committed by SVPs the result of a "mental" condition or deficiency yet not apply that same label to drug addicts, arsonists, violent offenders with no impulse control, or a plethora of other individuals.  My guess is that there are tens of thousands -- maybe even hundreds of thousands -- of individuals in California alone who, upon review of their criminal history, we could confidently say we're "certain" that they'll reoffend upon release.

So if preventative detention is okay in situations like the one here, why not there as well?

It surely isn't because we think that SVPs can be more effectively "treated" in the "hospital" than the other offenders.  Pedophilia seems notoriously difficult to cure.  Nor, in truth, do we even massively attempt to do so.  We're institutionalizing these people so they're not out and do it again.  Period.  

Sure, at some point, maybe they get too old or infirm to continue to commit their offenses.  Ditto for the guy who's constantly getting into bar fights and the like.  We apply the label of "mental deficiency" to justify taking away someone's liberty in advance because we know they're going to commit a crime in the future if we release them.  Do we do something similar to the schizophrenic and other people with more classic mental defects?  Yes.  But it nonetheless seems different here.  With the schizophrenic, we aren't really focusing on future crimes.  Here, we definitely are.  Which makes it difficult to justify not doing the same thing for other mental deficiencies that equally -- if not more -- result in the commission of criminal offenses.

Again, there's nothing about today's opinion that's radically different than other SVP cases with similar facts.  Yet, for some reason, it's nonetheless striking to me.

Both the application and concept.