U.S. v. Antone (Lawyers Weekly No. 14-01-0124, 44 pp.) (Davis, J.) No. 12-2400, Feb. 4, 2014; USDC at Raleigh, N.C. (Flanagan, J.) 4th Cir.
Holding: A Native American respondent who has served 13 years in federal prison for a variety of sexual offenses committed when he was high on alcohol and/or cocaine, will not be civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person; the 4th Circuit reverses the commitment order, citing respondent’s efforts at rehabilitation and good conduct record during his imprisonment and the government’s failure to show that respondent will not be able to refrain from future sex offenses.
Appellant Byron Neil Antone appeals the district court’s order of his civil commitment under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, 18 U.S.C. §§ 4247-48. Four days before he was to be released from federal prison, an official of the Federal Bureau of Prisons certified Antone as a sexually dangerous person eligible for civil commitment. After a three-day evidentiary hearing a magistrate judge recommended Antone should not be found to be a sexually dangerous person. The district court adopted the majority of the magistrate judge’s factual and credibility determinations, but it ultimately found the government had proven Antone was a sexually dangerous person.
We conclude the government did not present clear and convincing evidence that Antone’s mental illnesses would cause him to have serious difficulty refraining from sexually violent conduct. We reverse.
The sole issue on appeal is whether there was sufficient evidence of Antone’s future volitional impairment.
The magistrate judge afforded near determinative weight to Antone’s conduct “over the last 13 or so years,” during his time in federal prison. It noted that Antone had not been shown to have consumed alcohol or drugs or to have engaged in sexual misconduct during his extended incarceration. It also pointed to his attendance in Alcoholics Anonymous and his eagerness to seek out counseling for anger management.
The magistrate judge recognized that Antone’s achievements while incarcerated came about in a controlled environment where access to his vices was limited. Nevertheless, he concluded that over the past 13 years, Antone “has achieved a level of sexual self-regulation” and “a measure of self-control” that significantly undercut the government’s position that he would have serious difficulty refraining if released. He observed that certain evidence relied upon by the government’s expert witnesses, such as the nature, pattern, and duration of offense conduct, “is not as reliable an indicator of his behavior if released … because of, among other reasons, the extended intervening period in which there was no manifestation of such conduct.”
The district court found that the combination of Antone’s serious mental illnesses – namely antisocial personality disorder and polysubstance dependence – would cause him to have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct if released. In disagreement with the magistrate judge, however, the district court found sufficient evidence of a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and held that these two diagnoses, as manifested in Antone, qualified as serious mental illnesses. It issued an order rejecting the magistrate judge’s ultimate recommendation and civilly committing Antone.
That Antone has “responded very well” to incarceration is not in dispute. Antone has not tested positive for any substances while in prison, and he testified that he has been sober during his extended incarceration. Antone’s conduct as it relates to sexual deviance is equally commendable. Not only has he not engaged in any actual sexual misconduct or hostility toward women, but, just as importantly, his record is devoid of any indication that he has even desired to manifest such misconduct.
Since upholding the constitutionality of the Walsh Act in 2010, we have disposed of more than a handful of § 4248 appeals involving the volitional impairment prong, but none of them involved a respondent who had demonstrated such positive behavior during the extended period of his incarceration. Here, Antone’s behavior during the past 14 years – indeed, during a period of time that spans the majority of his adult life – reveals no acts that conceivably come close to the sort of malfeasance present in our aforementioned precedent. On these facts, there is not much more that he could have done to demonstrate that he is in control of his volitional faculties and that such control is likely to persist after his release. The district court should have been aware of the uniqueness of Antone’s factual record. As such, it was imperative for the court to comprehensively address why it believed Antone’s recent behavior was overshadowed by his past acts. It failed to do so.
We reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the matter to the district court with instructions to dismiss the petition. The mandate shall issue forthwith.