January 20, 2012

Federal judge tosses hebephilia as basis for civil detention

Hebephilia is too controversial for the government to use it to claim that a sex offender has a serious mental disorder meriting civil commitment in order to protect the public, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Terrence Boyle
In ordering the release of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Neuhauser, the judge also found that the government had failed to prove that the prisoner was at high risk to reoffend or would have serious difficulty controlling his impulses.

"The Court finds that it would be inappropriate to predicate civil commitment on a diagnosis that a large number of clinical psychologists believe is not a diagnosis at all, at least for forensic purposes," wrote Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. "Although hebephilia has been proposed to be included as a mental disorder in the revision of the DSM, it has been rejected as a proper mental disorder by numerous psychologists.”

Two of those psychologists, Diane Lytton and Richard Wollert, were retained in the case by Suzanne Little of the Federal Public Defender. Lytton testified that the residual diagnostic category of "paraphilia not otherwise specified" was never intended to turn criminal behaviors such as sex acts with minors into mental illnesses.

Even the government's own expert, Gary Zinik, conceded that the legitimacy of hebephilia is a hotly contested issue in the mental health community, the judge noted.

The pseudoscientific label is typically assigned by government experts when an offender is neither a rapist nor a pedophile, bur rather has offended against more physically mature minors.

Neuhauser acknowledged a sexual preference for pubescent boys. He served federal prison time for distributing child pornography and two counts of interstate travel with the intent to engage in sex with a minor. He also had previous convictions for contributing to the sexual delinquency of a child and assault and battery in connection with the attempted sodomy of a 14-year-old boy.

Disturbance Control Team patch, Butner prison
Boyle's ruling may impact other federal prisoners facing civil detention, as nearly all of the 130 or so federal prisoners that the government is seeking to detain under the Adam Walsh Act of 2006 are housed at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, and so are processed through the North Carolina federal court.

Yesterday's ruling follows on the heels of another dismissal of a civil commitment petition by Senior U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman. In a scatching critique of the prosecution's overblown claims of mental illness and risk, Judge Friedman opined that sex offender Markis Revland had fabricated accounts of child molestation in order to placate therapists at the Butner prison.

In Neuhauser's case, Judge Boyle stated that even if hebephilia was a legitimate diagnostic label, the government still did not meet its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that the convicted sex offender is at a high risk to reoffend.

He credited the defense experts' analyses of risk as being more accurate than the prosecution's. Wollert relied on an actuarial tool he helped to develop, the Multisample Age-Stratified Table of Sexual Recidivism Rates (MATS-1). (See my review here.) Other actuarial tools used by the various experts included the Static 99-R, the Static 2002-R and the MnSOST-R, which is widely known to overestimate sex offenders' risk of recidivism.

"It should be noted that results of these assessments depend heavily on the choice of reference group to which the respondent is compared," the judge aptly noted. "Because Drs. Wollert and Lytton analyzed their actuarial results in light of Mr. Neuhauser's advanced age, his ability to control his behavior while in the community, his pattern of offending (in particular, the fact that his first victim was by force and later victims willingly participated even though they could not give legal consent due to their age), and the fact that Mr. Neuhauser had not been subject to any deterrent sanctions until his most recent prison sentence, the Court finds their actuarial assessments to more accurately reflect Mr. Neuhauser's likelihood of recidivism."

Boyle said he was impressed by the offender's honesty, remorse and genuine desire to control his illegal behavior: "He openly discussed his sexual orientation toward pubescent boys but demonstrated a true understanding that boys of that age are unable to legally consent to sexual activity, even if they appear to him to be willing to engage in sexual contact…. Mr. Neuhauser's sexual orientation toward pubescent boys … is, standing alone, insufficient to justify his civil commitment under the Adam Walsh Act.… [T]here must be proof of serious difficulty in controlling behavior."

Boyle, by the way, is no political liberal. A former legislative assistant to arch-conservative Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, he was appointed to his present post by President Ronald Reagan back in 1984. Democrats later blocked President George W. Bush’s attempt to elevate him to an appellate judgeship, citing concerns over his civil rights record.

Neuhauser will be under parole supervision for five years, during which time he must undergo sex offender treatment and polygraph testing, avoid contact with minors, and submit to other special restrictions.

Further information on the hebephilia controversy is HERE.