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Court dismisses Bedford man’s petition for release

Man was ordered to treatment facility in 2011

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has dismissed a petition for release by a Bedford County man who remains in a treatment facility for a crime he committed in 2011 when he was a juvenile.

The man, referred to in a Superior Court decision issued Monday only by his initials, was ordered committed to a treatment facility after he was declared a sexually violent delinquent child for the indecent assault of an “intellectually disabled 26-year-old woman.”

The Superior Court explained that in 2014, as the juvenile was approaching age 20, at which time he would have to be released by the juvenile court, a Bedford County judge held a hearing under Pennsylvania Act 21 that permitted him to order the continuing involuntary commitment of the juvenile, under certain circumstances.

According to the Superior Court opinion written by Judge Mary Jane Bowes, for the commitment to continue, the court had to determine by “clear and convincing evidence that the juvenile had a mental abnormality or personality disorder that results in serious difficulty in controlling sexually violent behavior and that makes the person likely to engage in an act of sexual violence.”

During the July 18, 2014, hearing, the judge, Thomas S. Ling, received testimony from a psychologist who recommended continuing commitment because the young man had a “lengthy sex offending history with multiple victims. …”

A psychiatrist for the defense stated the defendant did not have a “mental abnormality” that required ongoing involuntary commitment but indicated he needed treatment.

The judge in 2014, and every year since, has confirmed the defendant’s need for involuntary treatment.

In 2018, the Superior Court found Act 21 unconstitutional, and this led the Bedford County man, through Public Defender Karen S. Ritchey, to file a petition asking the Superior Court to vacate his designation as a sexually violent delinquent child and his ongoing involuntary commitment.

For the past couple of years, the Pennsylvania appeals courts have been reviewing multiple cases involving sexual registration requirements and required counseling and commitments, to determine if they represent “punishment” or “treatment.”

If the court-ordered sentences are considered “punishment,” the need must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” — the standard used for criminal offenses.

If the sentence focuses on treatment, then the need must be proven by a much lower standard of “clear and convincing evidence.”

In recent decisions, the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme courts have determined that Act 21 is not unconstitutional because its focus remains on treatment for sexually violent predators.

It “does not promote the typically punitive goals of deterrence and retribution,” according to the Superior Court.

In addition, a ruling this year indicated that Act 21 helps protect the public from “dangerously mentally ill” individuals.

A recent decision indicated: “Act 21 … cannot be said to be excessive in light of the danger posed to the public by (sexually violent delinquent children).”

The Superior Court opinion concluded, “Consequently, (the defendant’s) constitutional challenges are meritless and the trial court (Ling) did not err” when rejecting the former juvenile’s petition.

Superior Court judges Anne Lazarus and Dan Pellegrini joined in the Bowes’ opinion.

The defendant’s attorney, Ritchey, was not available for comment Tuesday.

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