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United States v. Heyer

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

January 17, 2014

UNITED STATES of America, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Thomas HEYER, Respondent-Appellant.

Argued: Dec. 10, 2013.

Page 285

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 286

ARGUED:

Eric Joseph Brignac, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.

Denise Walker, Office of the United States Attorney, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Thomas P. McNamara, Federal Public Defender, G. Alan DuBois, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.

Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, R.A. Renfer, Jr., G. Norman Acker, III, Assistant United States Attorneys, Office of the United States Attorney, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Before MOTZ, AGEE, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge AGEE wrote the opinion, in which Judge MOTZ and Judge DIAZ concurred.

AGEE, Circuit Judge:

Respondent-Appellant Thomas Heyer (" Heyer" ) appeals the district court's order of civil commitment following an evidentiary hearing pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4248. On appeal, Heyer— who is deaf and communicates through sign language— contends that the district court abused its discretion in only allowing simultaneous interpretation, rather than consecutive interpretation, during the evidentiary hearing. Heyer also contends that the district court clearly erred in finding him to be a " sexually dangerous person" under § 4248, and further erred in rejecting his equal protection and due process claims. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

A.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (the " Act" ), 18 U.S.C. §§ 4247-4248, provides for the civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons following the expiration of their federal prison sentences. See 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a). A " sexually dangerous person" is one " who has engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation and who is sexually dangerous to others." See 18 U.S.C. § 4247(a)(5). A person is considered " sexually dangerous to others" if " the person suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder as a result of which he would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released." Id. at § 4247(a)(6).

The Attorney General, his designee, or the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (" BOP" ) may initiate a § 4248 commitment proceeding in the district court for the district in which the person is confined by filing a certification that the person is sexually dangerous within the meaning of the Act. See 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a). Such a filing automatically stays the release of the person from custody pending a hearing before the district court. See id. " If, after the hearing, the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person is a sexually dangerous person, the court shall commit the

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person to the custody of the Attorney General." Id. § 4248(d).

B.

On December 18, 2008, the Government initiated this action by filing a certificate pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina seeking to have Heyer civilly committed as a " sexually dangerous person" under the Act. The certificate stated that mental health personnel for the BOP had examined Heyer and issued a preliminary determination that he is " sexually dangerous" within the meaning of the Act. See 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a) (" In relation to a person who is in the custody of the [BOP], ... the Attorney General or any individual authorized by the Attorney General or the Director of the [BOP] may certify that the person is a sexually dangerous person, and transmit the certificate to the clerk of the court for the district in which the person is confined." ).

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4247(d), the district court conducted an evidentiary hearing on May 30 and 31, 2012.[1] Dr. Jeffrey Davis (" Dr. Davis" ) and Dr. Heather Ross (" Dr. Ross" ), forensic psychologists, provided forensic reports and testified on behalf of the Government that Heyer met the criteria for civil commitment. Dr. Diane Lytton (" Dr. Lytton" ), a forensic psychologist, provided a forensic report and testified on behalf of Heyer that he did not meet the criteria for commitment. In addition, Dr. Jean Andrews (" Dr. Andrews" ), an expert in deafness and psychosocial issues related to deafness, also provided a report and testified on behalf of Heyer.

At the hearing, Heyer initially moved the court to provide him with consecutive, rather than simultaneous, interpreting. The district court denied Heyer's request, stating, " Well, it's a civil case. The answer is no. We are not going to make this into a marathon." (J.A. 87.)

Based on the evidence presented, the district court adopted the following undisputed findings of fact. Heyer is deaf and communicates through American Sign Language (" ASL" ). Throughout his youth, Heyer was assaulted and molested numerous times. In 1989, at age twenty-two, Heyer was convicted of terroristic threats after getting into an argument with a man who accused him of molesting his eight-year-old son. Around the same time, Heyer was also convicted of burglary and armed robbery.

In 1993, Heyer molested a ten-year-old boy, then tied the boy up and placed him in a hole. He was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to ten years in prison. In the several years following Heyer's release from prison, he was convicted of a series of misdemeanors, including offenses for public intoxication, driving under the influence, reckless endangerment, vandalism, and passing a bad check.

Around 2002, Heyer was found to have approximately 180 images of child pornography in his possession. He subsequently pled guilty to possession of child pornography. Upon his release from prison for the child pornography conviction, he began sex offender treatment while on supervised ...


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