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Matter of Civil Commitment of Knutson

Minnesota Court of Appeals
Nov 29, 2005
No. A05-1204 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2005)


No. A05-1204.

Filed November 29, 2005.

Appeal from the District Court, Swift County, File No. P4-04-434.

Bradley A. Kluver, (for appellant).

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Matthew Frank, Assistant Attorney General, (for respondent).

Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.

Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).


Appellant challenges his commitment as a sexually dangerous person and a sexual psychopathic personality on the grounds that the evidence was not sufficient and that the commitment violated the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy, the constitutional right to a jury trial, and the proof-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard. Because the bases for commitment are supported by the record and because the principles of double jeopardy, the right to a jury trial, and the right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt do not apply to civil commitments, we affirm.


Appellant Paul John Knutson is a 27-year-old male with a history of criminal sexual conduct and other antisocial behavior. In October 1990, at the age of 12, appellant committed his first reported sexual assault by inappropriately touching the breasts and buttocks of a 13-year-old female despite her protests. Appellant was charged with and admitted to fourth-degree criminal sexual assault and was placed on indefinite probation.

At age 15, appellant committed his second reported sexual assault. His victim was his seven-year-old male step-cousin. Appellant invited the boy to play Nintendo and then forced him to perform oral sex. Despite appellant's threats, the boy reported the assault, and appellant was convicted of second-degree sexual assault and adjudicated delinquent.

Appellant committed three additional sexual assaults in 1997. In November, he forced a 14-year-old female to perform oral sex. Afterwards, appellant threatened the girl. In early December, appellant raped another 14-year-old female in a car. Appellant threatened to kill this girl if she told anyone. Two weeks later, appellant sexually assaulted a 12-year-old female in the bathroom of her home. After the assault, appellant threatened to kill her and her brother. Appellant pleaded guilty to charges of third-degree sexual assault for the oral sex incident and fourth-degree sexual assault for the incident with the 12 year old; he was not prosecuted for the rape. Appellant received probation as punishment for both assaults.

After stays in various treatment facilities, appellant was incarcerated in 1999 because he violated the terms of his probation by physically assaulting his fiancée. Before appellant was released from prison, he was identified as a level III sex offender. Appellant was then placed in a series of halfway houses. However, he absconded from each placement. As a result, appellant returned to prison in 2002.

Pending appellant's December 24, 2004, release from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, officials in Swift County petitioned for appellant's civil commitment. The county alleged that appellant is a sexually dangerous person (SDP) under Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18c(a) (2004), and a sexual psychopathic personality (SPP) under Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18b (2004). The district court found that appellant met the standards under both provisions and ordered his civil commitment. Appellant challenges his designation as an SDP and SPP and the commitment.


Appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence used to classify him as an SDP and SPP. "On appeal, findings of fact are not set aside unless clearly erroneous, and the record is viewed in a light most favorable to the district court's findings." In re Civil Commitment of Ramey, 648 N.W.2d 260, 269 (Minn.App. 2002), review denied (Minn. Sept. 17, 2002). Thus, this court will review the entire record and only reverse the district court's findings if the court is "left with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made." Roy Matson Truck Lines, Inc. v. Michelin Tire Corp., 277 N.W.2d 361, 361-62 (Minn. 1979).

However, whether the factual findings meet the requirements of the statute is a question of law reviewed de novo. In re Civil Commitment of Martin, 661 N.W.2d 632, 638 (Minn.App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Aug. 5, 2003). A de novo review does not include a re-weighing of the evidence, but rather determines whether the record as a whole provides substantial support for the district court's conclusions. In re Linehan (Linehan III), 557 N.W.2d 171, 189 (Minn. 1996), rev'd on other grounds, 552 U.S. 1011, 118 S. Ct. 596 (1997), aff'd as modified, 594 N.W.2d 867 (Minn. 1999).


The first issue is whether the district court erred in determining that appellant meets the criteria for commitment as a sexually dangerous person (SDP). Under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 253B.01-.23 (2004), an SDP is an individual who:

(1) has engaged in a course of harmful sexual conduct as defined in subdivision 7a;

(2) has manifested a sexual, personality, or other mental disorder or dysfunction; and

(3) as a result, is likely to engage in acts of harmful sexual conduct.

Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18c(a) (2004).

The state bears the burden of proving each element by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. §§ 253B.18, subd. 1(a), .185, subd. 1 (2004) ("if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the proposed patient is a person who is mentally ill and dangerous to the public, it shall commit the person . . ."). The statute defines "harmful sexual conduct" as "sexual conduct that creates a substantial likelihood of serious physical or emotional harm to another." Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 7a(a) (2004). There is a rebuttable presumption that criminal sexual conduct in the first through fourth degrees is harmful sexual conduct. Id. at subd. 7a(b). In addition, the Minnesota Supreme Court has fleshed out the final element, requiring a finding that it is "highly likely" that the appellant will commit harmful sexual conduct upon release. In re Linehan (Linehan IV), 594 N.W.2d 867, 876 (Minn. 1999).

In Kansas v. Crane, the United States Supreme Court concluded that although the constitution requires some finding that the individual lacks the ability to control his or her impulses, a complete lack of control is not a prerequisite to commitment. 534 U.S. 407, 411-12, 122 S. Ct. 867, 870 (2002); see Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18c(b) (2004). The Minnesota Supreme Court has interpreted the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act to allow the civil commitment of an SDP "whose present disorder or dysfunction does not allow them to adequately control their sexual impulses." Linehan IV, 594 N.W.2d at 876 (emphasis added). Therefore, the court must distinguish the SDP whose mental disorder requires civil commitment, from "the dangerous but typical recidivist convicted in an ordinary criminal case." Crane, 534 U.S. at 413, 122 S. Ct. at 870. As a result, only a narrow group of individuals is eligible for commitment under the SDP act. Ramey, 648 N.W.2d at 265-66.

A Course of Harmful Sexual Conduct

The state must show that appellant engaged in a course of harmful sexual conduct. Minn. Stat. § 253B.01, subd. 18c(a)(1). Each of appellant's assaults fall within the rebuttable presumption of harmful sexual conduct, as each offense constituted an act of first- through fourth-degree criminal sexual assault. Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 7a(b). In addition, both experts who testified at the civil commitment hearing agreed that appellant committed crimes of opportunity, preying on the vulnerability of his young victims. Dr. Riedel concurred, focusing his critique on the presence of coercion and threats of violence in the assaults. Dr. Riedel also highlighted the potentially unlimited victim pool, as appellant assaulted young boys and girls, family members and mere acquaintances.

Furthermore, statements from the victims demonstrate the harm caused by appellant's conduct. One victim stated that she wanted to kill herself after the assault. She attended counseling sessions at a crisis center, and now feels that the only thing her boyfriend wants from her is sex. Another victim stated that she was too upset and embarrassed to discuss the assault. In a letter to her mother describing the assault, she confessed that she feels like a slut.

Personality Disorders

Both experts also identified appellant as suffering from an antisocial personality disorder and an unspecified psychopathy. Having an antisocial personality disorder satisfies the second element of the SDP statute, Linehan IV, 594 N.W.2d at 878, and embodies an inability to empathize with others, as well as a general lack of concern for others. Dr. Riedel also testified that appellant demonstrates tendencies of pedophilia. The experts agreed that appellant's personality disorders are exacerbated by his untreated substance abuse.

An evaluation of appellant in 1999 described him as completely lacking insight into his sexually manipulative behavior, as well as having no remorse for any of his victims. Appellant alternatively claims he did not assault anyone or he blames his victims. For example, appellant accuses two victims of "badgering him into physical and sexual contact," and blames his friends for another assault. These are all traits of antisocial personality disorder.

Highly Likely to Cause Future Harm

"The Minnesota SDP Act requires a finding of future dangerousness, and then links that finding to the existence of a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the person to control his dangerous behavior."

Linehan IV, 594 N.W.2d at 875 (quotations omitted). Both experts administered a series of tests that demonstrate appellant's recidivist tendencies. For example, the revised Minnesota Sex Offender Screening Tool indicated upwards of a 70-88% chance of recidivism, while the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide gave the appellant a 100% likelihood of recidivism within seven to ten years. The STATIC-99 test gave appellant a 52% risk of re-offending within 15 years. These test scores led each expert to independently conclude that appellant is highly likely to re-offend and poses a future danger to the public.

In addition to test scores, the supreme court also outlined a list of factors the district court may use to determine whether the SDP presents a future danger to the public. In re Linehan (Linehan I), 518 N.W.2d 609, 614 (Minn. 1994). These factors are:

(a) the person's relevant demographic characteristics . . .;

(b) the person's history of violent behavior . . .;

(c) the base rate statistics for violent behavior among individuals of this person's background . . .;

(d) the sources of stress in the environment . . .;

(e) the similarity of the present or future context to those contexts in which the person has used violence in the past; and

(f) the person's record with respect to sex therapy programs.


The record supports the district court's findings for each criterion. First, the court considered the relevant demographic characteristics. Appellant has a history of not being able or motivated to find employment. This is hampered by the fact that appellant only has a tenth-grade education and is considered an untreated level III sex offender. He also suffers from numerous personality disorders and substance abuse.

Second, the appellant's violent history is also relevant. In each attack, appellant used coercion to gain compliance from his victims. He also used direct and indirect threats of violence in an attempt to gain silence after the fact. In addition, the age of his victims suggests an attempt to manipulate and intimidate. While appellant contends that, because these assaults all took place years ago, he does not pose a present danger, the district court found that appellant's incarceration and stays in halfway houses prevented him from re-offending with his "chosen" victim pool, young females. See In re Bobo, 376 N.W.2d 429, 432 (Minn.App. 1985) (holding that good behavior in artificial environment is not determinative of dangerousness, where experts testify patient remains mentally ill and dangerous).

Third, the court considers base-rate statistics. Expert testing indicated that appellant has an extremely high risk for recidivism until age 50, when such risk typically abates. Therefore, this factor also supports civil commitment in this case.

Fourth, the sources of stress in appellant's environment are relevant. Appellant's status as a level III sex offender interferes with his housing prospects. While staying at halfway houses and looking for permanent housing, appellant responded to this stress by absconding and using marijuana and alcohol. Moreover, appellant does not respond well to authority, frequently refusing to follow the rules of halfway houses and treatment centers, and failing to register as a sex offender. Appellant also lacks a relapse-prevention plan that would allow him to deal with environmental triggers.

Fifth, appellant's current situation is substantially similar to those past contexts which led appellant to offend. Not only does appellant still have alcohol and drug problems, he refused sex offender treatment while in prison.

The last Linehan I factor counsels the court to consider appellant's response to therapy programs. As the district court found, appellant has an extensive treatment history. Appellant was treated for the first time nearly 14 years ago. In denial about his sexual conduct, appellant took to minimizing his role; a pattern which continued up to his final string of assaults. Appellant was also diagnosed with "some emerging antisocial traits" after the first assault. This early diagnosis has developed into full antisocial personality disorder. To deal with these issues, appellant has been treated at the Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center, the Mille Lacs Academy, the Anoka County Juvenile Center's Sex Specific Program, the Woodland Centers, and Regions Hospital. Appellant, however, has failed to complete treatment and remains an untreated sex offender.

The district court specifically concluded that not only does the appellant have a long treatment history, he also quickly resorts to criminal behavior when unsupervised. Given these factors, the district court reasonably concluded that appellant should be committed as an SDP, a conclusion this court affirms.


The second issue is whether the district court erred in determining that appellant meets the criteria for commitment as a sexual psychopathic personality (SPP). Under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 253B.01-.23 (2004), an SPP means:

[T]he existence in any person of such conditions of emotional instability, or impulsiveness of behavior, or lack of customary standards of good judgment, or failure to appreciate the consequences of personal acts, or a combination of any of these conditions, which render the person irresponsible for personal conduct with respect to sexual matters, if the person has evidenced, by a habitual course of misconduct in sexual matters, an utter lack of power to control the person's sexual impulses and, as a result, is dangerous to other persons.

Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18b (emphasis added).

The "utter lack of control" element presents the key difference between the SPP and SDP statutes. As a result, "[t]he psychopathic personality statute identifies a volitional dysfunction which grossly impairs judgment and behavior with respect to the sex drive." In re Blodgett, 510 N.W.2d 910, 915 (Minn. 1994).

Statutory Behavior Conditions

To be civilly committed as an SPP, the appellant must demonstrate certain behavioral characteristics in conjunction with a habitual course of sexual misconduct. Minn. Stat. § 253B.02, subd. 18b. First, the district court found that appellant is emotionally unstable. Not only does appellant have substance-abuse problems, he has also been diagnosed with personality disorders which demonstrate emotional instability. Second, the district court found that impulsiveness defines appellant's life. A symptom of anti-social personality, impulsiveness triggers appellant's criminal conduct and is further aggravated by his substance abuse.

Third, the district court found that appellant lacks customary standards of good judgment. Appellant pleaded guilty to four sexual assaults, continually violated his probation, and absconded from halfway houses to abuse drugs. Appellant's choices repeatedly put him in contact with the criminal justice system, yet he does nothing to reform his behavior. Finally, appellant has failed to appreciate the consequences of his actions. Not only has appellant persistently minimized the impact of the assaults on his victims, he also blames them for his criminal conduct.

Habitual Course of Misconduct in Sexual Matters

Appellant committed a string of five sexual assaults from the age of twelve to the age of nineteen, with three of the offenses taking place within an approximately one-month time span. The victim impact statements demonstrate the harmful results of the misconduct, and appellant's own testimony shows impulsiveness and lack of empathy for his victims. Thus, by considering the opinions of experts who examined the appellant, as well as the impact of the crimes, the district court concluded that appellant followed a habitual course of misconduct in sexual matters.

Utter Lack of Power to Control Sexual Impulses

This is the key element to an SPP determination. A number of factors are dispositive in determining whether an individual should be committed because of an utter lack of control over his sexual impulses:

(1) the nature and frequency of the sexual assaults;

(2) the degree of violence involved;

(3) the relationship (or lack thereof) between the offender and the victims;

(4) the offender's attitude and mood;

(5) the offender's medical and family history;

(6) the results of psychological and psychiatric testing and evaluation; and

(6) such other factors that bear on the predatory sex impulse and the lack of power to control it.

Blodgett, 510 N.W.2d at 915.

The district court correctly applied the Blodgett factors to determine that appellant is an SPP. Dr. Riedel found that appellant was opportunistic in the commission of his crimes, preying on the vulnerability of his young victims. While the nature and frequency of the assaults varied, each victim was underage, and three of the assaults happened during one month. Moreover, coercion and threats of violence prevailed in each assault. Appellant used force to effectuate the attacks, and often threatened the victims with bodily harm if they reported the assault. Likewise, the appellant knew each of his victims with varying degrees of familiarity.

The district court also considered the appellant's attitude and mood, as well as his medical and family history. As a result of his antisocial personality disorder, appellant continually minimizes his role in the attacks. Moreover, appellant's family situation does not provide stability or support. Both of appellant's parents are alcoholics with difficulty holding jobs. Appellant's father would supply him with drugs and alcohol, contributing to appellant's delinquency and substance abuse. Appellant also indicated that he was physically abused by his maternal uncle, and was exposed to pornography at a young age.

Finally, the results of extensive testing demonstrate that appellant is at a high risk for recidivism. Not only does appellant have a low average I.Q., which may further complicate treatment of his various disorders, but he also is considered an untreated sex offender who does not have an effective relapse-prevention program in place. Notably, appellant has refused treatment even when it would have resulted in his early release. The district court reasonably concluded that these factors, as well as appellant's impulsive nature, rendered him utterly unable to control his sexual impulses and, therefore, clear and convincing evidence demonstrated that appellant poses a danger to others.


In a pretrial motion appellant argued that civil commitment violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the federal constitution. The district court denied the motion. This court will review a constitutional challenge de novo. State v. Johnson, 689 N.W.2d 247, 253 (Minn.App. 2004), review denied (Minn. Jan. 20, 2005).

"If an individual otherwise meets the requirements for involuntary civil commitment, the State is under no obligation to release that individual simply because the detention would follow a period of incarceration." Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346, 370, 117 S. Ct. 2072 (1997). Moreover, the Minnesota Supreme Court has held numerous times that civil commitment is a remedial, not punitive, course of action. Blodgett, 510 N.W.2d at 916. Therefore, it does not violate the constitutional protection against double jeopardy. See also Call v. Gomez, 535 N.W.2d 312, 320 (Minn. 1995) (finding that the purpose of commitment statute is treatment, not preventive detention); State ex. rel. Pearson v. Probate Court of Ramsey County, 205 Minn. 545, 550, 287 N.W. 297, 300 (1939) (noting that a civilly-committed individual receives treatment upon commitment and, therefore, the statute is not punitive but rather remedial).

The United States Supreme Court has similarly concluded that the states have an interest in civilly committing those who present a danger to others. Hendricks, 521 U.S. at 366, 117 S. Ct. at 2084. See also Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 426, 99 S. Ct. 1804, 1809 (1979) (recognizing the state's legitimate interest in caring for those unable to care for themselves and protecting community from the dangerous behavior of mentally ill persons). These authorities dispose of appellant's double-jeopardy claim.


The final issue is whether proceeding without a jury, and not determining facts beyond a reasonable doubt, violated appellant's rights. Appellant argued, in a pretrial motion, that the district court should dismiss the commitment petition because proceeding without a jury would violate appellant's constitutional rights even though the statute does not require hearing by jury. The district court denied the motion. "A statute bears the presumption of validity, and the `party challenging the constitutionality of the statute has the onus of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute violates a claimed right.'" In re Conservatorship of Foster, 547 N.W.2d 81, 85 (Minn. 1996) (quoting In re Schmidt, 443 N.W.2d 824, 826 (Minn. 1989)).

The civil commitment statute itself contemplates that the court, and not a jury, will make the commitment determination. The statute expressly provides that, "[u]pon the filing of a petition alleging that a proposed patient is a sexually dangerous person or is a person with a sexual psychopathic personality, the court shall hear the petition as provided in section 253B.18." Minn. Stat. § 253B.185, subd. 1 (2004) (emphasis added). It goes on to state that, " the court shall commit the patient to a secure treatment facility[.]" Id. (emphasis added). The legislature could have provided a jury-trial right, yet it did not.

Minnesota courts have long recognized that the state constitution does not guarantee a right to a jury trial in a civil commitment proceeding. Pearson, 205 Minn. at 556-57, 287 N.W. at 303. See also Joelson v. O'Keefe, 594 N.W.2d 905, 910 (Minn.App. 1999) (re-affirming the Pearson principle that the right to a jury trial does not attach to a civil commitment hearing), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999); see also Poole v. Goodno, 335 F.3d 705, 709 (8th Cir. 2003). Therefore, both the case law and the statutory language dispose of appellant's claim of a right to a jury trial.

Finally, appellant states no authority for his proposition that commitment as an SDP/SPP should be supported by evidence proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Minnesota Supreme Court has stated that where clear and convincing evidence is present, "no further evidence to support [commitment] is necessary." In re Joelson, 344 N.W.2d 613, 614 (Minn. 1984). While both criminal proceedings and commitment proceedings may result in the individual's loss of liberty, the United State Supreme Court has concluded that mental illness may be demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Addington, 441 U.S. at 432-33, 99 S. Ct. at 1812-13.

Involuntary civil confinement of dangerous persons is not contrary to our understanding of ordered liberty. Hendricks, 521 U.S. at 357, 117 S. Ct. at 2080. The Supreme Court held that commitment proceedings are not punitive, and that the proof beyond a reasonable doubt standard was closely connected to the development of criminal law, but not mental health law. Addington, 441 U.S. at 428, 99 S. Ct. at 1810. The Supreme Court further reasoned that, while minimizing the risk of error in criminal cases superseded the concern that a guilty person may go free, the same could not be said for a remedial civil commitment proceeding. Id. at 429, 99 S. Ct. at 1811. Given this strong history of denying such a right, appellant's claim fails.


Summaries of

Matter of Civil Commitment of Knutson

Minnesota Court of Appeals
Nov 29, 2005
No. A05-1204 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2005)
Case details for

Matter of Civil Commitment of Knutson

Case Details

Full title:In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of: Paul John Knutson

Court:Minnesota Court of Appeals

Date published: Nov 29, 2005


No. A05-1204 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2005)