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United States v. Charboneau

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

February 6, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Petitioner - Appellee,
BLAKE CHARBONEAU, Respondent - Appellant.

          Argued: November 1, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. James C. Dever III, District Judge. (5:15-hc-02287-D)


          Jaclyn Lee DiLauro, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Michael Gordon James, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Louis C. Allen, Acting Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Robert J. Higdon, Jr., United States Attorney, G. Norman Acker III, Civil Chief, Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before MOTZ, DUNCAN, and QUATTLEBAUM, Circuit Judges.


         The district court found Blake Charboneau to be a "sexually dangerous person" under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (the "Act").[1] 18 U.S.C. § 4247(a)(5). As a result, the district court committed Charboneau to the custody of the Attorney General. In this appeal, Charboneau challenges the district court's determination that he met the criteria for a sexually dangerous person. In doing so, Charboneau raises a legal and a factual question. The legal question is whether Charboneau must be diagnosed with a paraphilic disorder[2] to be committed under the Act. The factual question is whether the record supported the district court's findings under the clear error standard of review. Finding that the Act does not require a diagnosis with a paraphilic disorder and that the district court's findings were amply supported by the record, we affirm.


         Before turning to the facts of this case, we summarize the pertinent provisions of the Act. The Government commences a proceeding under the Act by filing a certification that an inmate is a sexually dangerous person. 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a). The proceeding is a civil, not criminal, proceeding. See id. § 4248. The Government then bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that: (1) the individual has previously "engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation" (the prior conduct element), id. § 4247(a)(5); (2) the individual currently "suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder" (the serious mental illness element), id. § 4247(a)(6); and (3) as a result of such condition, the individual "would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released" (the serious difficulty element), id.

         If the Government prevails, the individual is ordered into the custody of the Attorney General. Id. § 4248(d). The Attorney General must then make reasonable efforts to transfer the individual to the State in which the person is domiciled or was tried if the State will assume responsibility for his custody, care and treatment. Id. If the State will not assume such responsibility, the Attorney General must place the individual in a suitable facility until the State assumes responsibility or the individual's condition is such that he is no longer sexually dangerous. Id. The Act also provides a mechanism for relief from an order of commitment. A respondent may file a motion with the district court asking for his discharge from commitment at any time 180 days after his original commitment. Id. § 4247(h). In addition, the director of the facility must prepare annual reports concerning the respondent's mental condition and his need for continued commitment. Id. § 4247(e)(1)(B). In sum, an order of commitment means that, even after an individual has served his entire criminal sentence, he remains in custody.[3]



         Turning now to the background of this case, Charboneau lived on the Devils Lake Sioux Reservation in Fort Totten, North Dakota[4] his entire life, with the exceptions of mental health treatment, school and prison placements. Around the time he turned twelve, Charboneau began abusing alcohol and inhalants. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Charboneau has had frequent contact with the criminal justice system over the course of his life. Since 1978, law enforcement officers arrested or took Charboneau into custody over thirty times for various crimes ranging from disorderly conduct to sexual assault. Virtually all those offenses occurred while Charboneau was under the influence of alcohol. Among those crimes were four arrests for sexually violent conduct, all of which occurred while Charboneau was intoxicated.[5]

         In 1982, Charboneau sexually assaulted his twenty-three-year-old female cousin. Charboneau claimed to be so intoxicated at the time of the offense that he was unable to remember the assault when he was questioned by the police the following day. Charboneau pled guilty for this offense and was sentenced to prison.

         In August 1987, Charboneau committed his second sexual offense. Charboneau entered a woman's home, forcibly removed her clothes and attempted to have sexual intercourse with her on the kitchen floor. Law enforcement officials on Charboneau's reservation who investigated the matter did not formally charge Charboneau with sexual assault. However, Charboneau admitted to these actions at the commitment hearing held before the district court.

         In July 1988, Charboneau committed his third sexual offense. After a family picnic, Charboneau, while intoxicated, took his ten-year-old daughter to an area obscured by bushes and sexually assaulted her. Charboneau was found guilty in federal court of aggravated sexual abuse by force and sentenced to 168 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release. Charboneau began his period of supervised release in October 2000.

         While on supervised release in 2003, Charboneau committed his fourth sexual offense. Charboneau, again intoxicated, sexually assaulted his niece. Charboneau pled guilty in state court to sexual contact with a person incapable of consenting. The state court sentenced him to ten years of imprisonment. In addition, because Charboneau was on supervised release pursuant to his previous federal sentence at the time, the federal court found that Charboneau violated the terms of his supervised release and sentenced him to thirty-six months of confinement and twenty-four months of supervised release to commence after Charboneau completed his term of imprisonment at the state level.


         In December 2015, while Charboneau was in federal prison at Federal Correctional Institution ("FCI") Butner serving his sentence for his 2003 supervised release violation, the Government initiated the civil commitment proceedings by filing a certification alleging Charboneau was a sexually dangerous person under the Act. At that time, Charboneau's anticipated date of release was February 21, 2016. On January 27, 2017, the district court held a commitment hearing on the Government's certification. Because of its relevance to our review, we will summarize the testimony at the commitment hearing.

         The Government called Dr. Kara Holden, a clinical psychologist who works in the Commitment and Treatment Program at FCI Butner. Dr. Holden testified about her treatment of Charboneau. She remarked that Charboneau had cognitive and communication difficulties and initially was very reserved. She reported that Charboneau blamed the victims for his crimes and even saw himself as a victim. She testified that although Charboneau received treatment for alcohol abuse in the program at FCI Butner, he denied that he had an alcohol problem. Dr. Holden also testified that Charboneau became more comfortable communicating with her as treatment progressed. In December 2016, Charboneau admitted to Dr. Holden for the first time that he had a sexual deviance problem, needed treatment and felt that he was sexually dangerous.

         Next, the Government called Dr. Christopher North, Dr. Heather Ross and Dr. Gary Zinik as expert witnesses. Dr. North is a clinical psychologist appointed by the district court to conduct an evaluation of Charboneau. Dr. Ross is a sex offender forensic psychologist at the Bureau of ...

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