Supreme Judicial Court (February 14, 2007)

SDP commitment is only available if the procedure is initiated before the termination of a period of criminal confinement. Otherwise, the individual is no longer a "prisoner" and the statute does not apply.

The Commonwealth filed a petition to have each of the respondents civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person (SDP). In each case, the respondents had already completed their terms of incarceration, faced no pending criminal charges, but remained civilly committed to Bridgewater State Hospital pursuant to G.L. c. 123, §§(7) and 8, the provisions for involuntary civil commitment. The SJC transferred the case on its own initiative from the Appeals Court.

Under G.L. c. 123A, §12(b), prosecutors may petition for an individual's commitment as an SDP if that individual is a "prisoner." The SJC held that the term "prisoner" requires a construction that is no broader than its ordinary usage; that is, an individual who is either serving a criminal sentence or is awaiting trial on a criminal sentence. The plain language of G.L. c. 123A does not provide for SDP commitment of individuals who have completed a criminal sentence and have no pending charges, but who may remain civilly committed to Bridgewater State Hospital.