Supreme Judicial Court (January 8, 2008)
M.G.L. c. 123A, §15 properly permits an incompetent respondent to be found sexually dangerous even if he has not been tried or convicted on pending sexual charges because he is incompetent to stand trial. The court may hold a §15 hearing to decide whether the respondent committed the act or acts of which he stands accused.
Last year, in Commonwealth v. Nieves, the SJC held that G.L. c. 123A, §14 properly permits civil commitment proceedings against an incompetent who has already been convicted of a sexual offense. In this case, the respondent had not been tried or convicted of the sexual offense due to his incompetency. The defendant challenged §15, which authorizes SDP proceedings against such incompetent, untried respondents, claiming that if a defendant is unable to assist in his own defense due to his incompetency, he may not be subjected to a trial (or a §15 hearing) on the contested factual issue of whether he committed a specific offense.
The SJC rejected this argument, holding that the Legislature provided adequate procedural protections in section 15 to guard against the potential for erroneously depriving a defendant of his liberty. "[I]t is beyond question that the Legislature has a compelling interest in protecting the public from sexually dangerous persons. That interest is not diminished when that person happens to be incompetent to stand trial."