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Commonwealth v. Proffitt

Supreme Court of Virginia

October 27, 2016



         PRESENT: All the Justices



         In this appeal, we consider whether the circuit court abused its discretion by excluding the testimony of two witnesses in a trial under the Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act ("SVPA"), Code §§ 37.2-900 et seq.


         On August 12, 2014, the Commonwealth initiated proceedings under the SVPA to involuntarily commit Brady Arnold Proffitt, Jr. as a sexually violent predator. The matter proceeded to a jury trial, where the Commonwealth introduced into evidence an order convicting Proffitt of rape in December 2012. The Commonwealth's first witness was Dr. Doris Nevin, a clinical psychologist, whom the circuit court qualified as an expert "in clinical psychology and in the diagnosis, risk assessment and treatment of sex offenders." Dr. Nevin testified that she "complete[d] a sexually violent predator evaluation" of Proffitt. In the course of this evaluation, she met with Proffitt and reviewed "a wide variety of documents, " including his "criminal record, the institutional record at the facility where he was housed, [and] his medical records." Significantly, Dr. Nevin reviewed a police report given by M.J., the victim of the 2012 rape.

         Dr. Nevin also reviewed another police report given by A.G. in November 2007 that resulted in a rape indictment against Proffitt. That charge was nolle prossed. Therefore, Dr. Nevin did not rely on the details of the police report when formulating her opinion.

          Dr. Nevin diagnosed Proffitt with sexual sadism disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and alcohol use disorder. She explained that a diagnosis of sexual sadism disorder requires two diagnostic criteria:

A. Over a period of at least 6 months, [the individual has] recurrent and intense sexual arousal from the physical or psychological suffering of another person, as manifested by fantasies, urges, or behaviors[; and]
B. The individual has acted on these sexual urges with a nonconsenting person, or the sexual urges or fantasies cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

         American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 695 (5th ed. 2013) (emphasis added) ("DSM-V"). Dr. Nevin testified that "in [Proffitt's] case, " there had been "at least one convicted behavior, in which [he had] . . . gone out and has gotten pleasure . . . in sexually hurting" a nonconsenting person. Additionally, Dr. Nevin administered the Multiphasic Sex Inventory II ("MSI-II") to Proffitt in May 2014, and his responses indicated that he was having sadistic fantasies at that time. Dr. Nevin opined that Proffitt was "a sexually violent predator" and "at risk to commit new contact sex offenses if he were released . . . in the absence of treatment."

         After Dr. Nevin's testimony, the Commonwealth attempted to call A.G. and M.J. as witnesses. Proffitt objected that A.G.'s testimony was not relevant because Dr. Nevin did not rely on the 2007 incident in preparing her opinion. Proffitt argued that her testimony would serve no purpose "other than to incense and charge the jury emotionally." Similarly regarding M.J., Proffitt argued that his conviction was already in evidence, and her testimony would only "throw[] fuel on that fire." The Commonwealth responded that testimony by A.G. and M.J. was "relevant, because [it] showed [Proffitt's] . . . M.O., or his scheme." The Commonwealth also asserted that "the details" of the incidents would allow Dr. Nevin to "strengthen" her diagnoses and opinion.

         The circuit court granted Proffitt's motion to exclude the witnesses:

With [Proffitt] conceding the first prong of the test, the only two prongs that are at issue are the diagnosis of either the mental abnormality or the personality disorder, which [Dr. Nevin has] testified to, and the likelihood to re-offend, which she's testified to. Their testimony, I cannot see how that would do anything, it would inflame the jury, perhaps, but I don't think it could add to the . . . to the relevant issue or anything relevant to the two issues that remain.

         The Commonwealth then made a detailed proffer of the testimony expected to be given by A.G. and M.J. A.G. would testify that in November 2007, Proffitt convinced her to get into his vehicle and drove to "pretty isolated" "back roads." He told A.G. that she "needed to have sex with him or spend the night at his home, or else, he was just going to . . . drop her off there." A.G. refused, but Proffitt "pulled her out of the truck" and had "sexual intercourse with her against her will and by force." A.G. contacted the police, and Proffitt was indicted for rape, but this charge was nolle prossed.

         The Commonwealth then proffered that M.J. would testify "to a very similar pattern of behavior" in December 2012. Proffitt convinced M.J. to get into his car and took her "on the back roads." He told her that "she needed to do him a favor" and to "take her pants off." After she complied, Proffitt "raped her against her will by force, and [M.J.] tried to fight him off." The Commonwealth noted that these two incidents occurred five years apart.

         Finally, the Commonwealth proffered that after "Dr. Nevin heard the testimony, or if it was presented to her in a hypothetical, " she could then "take the 2007 event as true" to "strengthen her diagnoses for the sexual sadism disorder and . . . antisocial personality disorder."

          After deliberation, the jury found that the evidence had failed to prove that Proffitt was a sexually violent predator, and the Commonwealth moved to set aside the verdict. The circuit court denied the motion and entered a final order in accordance with the jury's verdict. We awarded the Commonwealth this appeal.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In its sole assignment of error, the Commonwealth contends that the circuit court abused its discretion by excluding the testimony of A.G. and M.J. as irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial, and cumulative. Proffitt responds that the excluded evidence would not provide any new information that Dr. Nevin had not previously reviewed and incorporated into her opinion. Rather, it would cause unfair prejudice by ...

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