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In re Chapman

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

May 16, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF WAYNE CHAPMAN.

          Sex Offender. Practice, Civil, Sex offender, Civil commitment, Standing. Notice, Timeliness. Supreme Judicial Court, Superintendence of inferior courts.

          Wendy J. Murphy for the petitioners.

          Joseph N. Schneiderman (Eric Tennen also present) for Wayne Chapman.

          Mary P. Murray for Department of Correction.

          Maura Healey, Attorney General, & Eric A. Haskell, Assistant Attorney General, for the Attorney General, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Jonathan W. Blodgett, District Attorney for the Eastern District, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

         This is the second of two cases we decide today involving Wayne Chapman. The petitioners in this case are individuals who are enrolled in the victim notification registry for Chapman. See 803 Code Mass. Regs. §§ 9.00 (2017). They are appealing from a judgment of a single justice of this court denying their petition for relief under G. L. c. 211, § 3, in which they sought, among other things, to enjoin Chapman's release from the Massachusetts Treatment Center (treatment center) after two qualified examiners opined that he was no longer sexually dangerous. We affirm.

         Background.

         The facts concerning Chapman's history of criminal conduct, incarceration, and commitment to the treatment center are set forth in Chapman, petitioner, 482 Mass. (2019). In short, Chapman was civilly committed to the treatment center for an indeterminate period of from one day to life under G. L. c. 123A, after he completed his criminal sentences for rape of a child and other sexual offenses in 2004. In 2016, he filed a petition in the Superior Court for release pursuant to G. L. c. 123A, § 9, claiming that he was no longer sexually dangerous. As required by § 9, he was examined by two qualified examiners, both of whom, in May of 2018, rendered the opinion that he was no longer sexually dangerous.

         Concerned that the opinions of the qualified examiners would result in Chapman's imminent release from custody, see Johnstone, petitioner, 453 Mass. 544, 553 (2009) ("in order for the Commonwealth to proceed to trial in a discharge proceeding under G. L. c. 123A, § 9, at least one of the two qualified examiners must opine that the [individual] remains sexually dangerous"), the petitioners applied for emergency relief in the county court, pursuant to G. L. c. 211, § 3, seeking to enjoin Chapman's release. They raised a variety of claims concerning the propriety of the G. L. c. 123A, § 9, proceeding in the Superior Court. They claimed, for example, that Chapman's petition for discharge had not been properly served on the district attorney and the Attorney General, as the statute requires; that the petitioners were not notified of the filing of Chapman's petition, as they had been in the past with respect to his earlier petitions; that they did not receive fourteen days' advance notice of Chapman's imminent release after the two qualified examiners found him to be not sexually dangerous, which they claimed was required by G. L. c. 258B, § 3 (t_); and that the qualified examiners had not been properly appointed. In a supporting memorandum of law, the petitioners argued that they had properly invoked this court's extraordinary power of general superintendence to remedy the alleged deficiencies because Chapman "has a long history of being adjudicated too dangerous to be released into society"; because "the proceedings that led to his imminent release were not conducted in accordance with the law"; and because their statutory right to notice under G. L. c. 258B, § 3 (t_), had been violated. They stated in their memorandum that they were seeking relief both on their own behalf and on behalf of the general public.[1]

          The single justice denied the petition in June of 2018. With respect to the claim that the petitioners had not received proper advance notice of Chapman's imminent release, the single justice recognized that crime victims and other individuals who subscribe to the victim notification registry, see 803 Code Mass. Regs. §§ 9.00, as the petitioners in this case did, "are entitled to scrupulous compliance with the notice requirements provided by statute and regulation," but he concluded that the petitioners had received the requisite notice because Chapman had not yet been released, and more than fourteen days had elapsed since they had received notice. Second, with respect to the petitioners' objection to the process by which the qualified examiners had been appointed, the single justice noted that the petitioners had "failed to provide any legal authority granting them standing or a private cause of action," and he ruled that "[r]egardless, the qualification and appointment of the qualified examiners followed statutory requirements." And finally, as to the petitioners' objection to the fact that opinions of qualified examiners do not receive judicial review, the single justice stated that "such review would require a legislative change."

         Discussion.

         1. Commitment and discharge process.

         General Laws c. 123A carefully defines when and how an individual can become subject to a commitment petition; who may bring such a petition; the procedure for a commitment hearing; and the process by which an individual, once committed, can seek to be released from commitment. See G. L. c. 123A, §§ 9, 12-14. The commitment is a civil commitment, not a criminal incarceration. See Commonwealth v. Bruno, 432 Mass. 489, 502 (2000). It is not intended as further punishment for the crime or crimes the individual has committed; rather, the intent is preventative --to protect society from individuals who, despite having completed their criminal punishment, cannot control their sexual impulses as a result of ...


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