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In re Detention of Taft

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 22, 2017

IN RE THE DETENTION OF DAVID L. TAFT JR. DAVID L. TAFT JR. Respondent-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Lars G. Anderson, Judge.

         Respondent, who was civilly committed as a sexually violent predator, appeals a jury's verdict finding he was not suitable for discharge or placement in a transitional release program. AFFIRMED.

          Philip B. Mears of Mears Law Office, Iowa City, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kevin Cmelik and Linda J. Hines, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellee.

          Heard by Mullins, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          BOWER, Judge.

         David Taft Jr., who was civilly committed as a sexually violent predator, appeals a jury's verdict finding he was not suitable for discharge or placement in a transitional release program. We find the jury was properly instructed on the State's burden of proof, the preconditions for placement in the transitional release program, and the necessity of an approved release prevention plan. We affirm the decision of the district court.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         In 1987, Taft was charged with lascivious acts with a minor and other sexual offenses. He was convicted of the offenses and sentenced to prison. Taft was discharged in May 1991. A few days after his release, he entered a home where two girls, ages nine and ten, were home alone and sexually assaulted one of the girls and attempted to assault the other. See State v. Taft (Taft I), 506 N.W.2d 757, 759 (Iowa 1993). Taft was convicted of sexual abuse in the second degree, burglary in the first degree, and assault causing bodily injury. Id. at 763.

         When Taft was discharged from prison in 2005, the State filed a petition alleging he should be committed as a sexually violent predator under Iowa Code chapter 299A (2005). A jury found he suffered from a mental abnormality, which made it more likely than not he would reoffend, and he was committed to the civil commitment unit for sexual offenders. See Taft v. Iowa Dist. Ct. (Taft II), 828 N.W.2d 309, 311 (Iowa 2013). In this program, there is an annual review to determine whether the committed person should be discharged or placed in a transitional release program. Id. at 313. There is a rebuttable presumption in favor of extending civil commitment. Id. (citing Iowa Code § 229A.8(1)). A committed person is entitled to a final hearing if, based on a consideration of all the evidence, the court finds the person has shown by a preponderance of the relevant and reliable evidence a hearing should be held to determine whether the person's mental abnormality has changed so the person is not likely to reoffend. Id. at 318.

         After Taft's 2013 annual review, the district court denied his request for a final hearing. Taft petitioned for certiorari, claiming sections 229A.8A(2)(d) and (e) were unconstitutional. See Taft v. Iowa Dist. Ct. (Taft III), 879 N.W.2d 634, 638 (Iowa 2016). Our supreme court determined the issue was not ripe for adjudication, noting Taft had been denied a final hearing for reasons other than those presented in sections 229A.8A(2)(d) and (e). Id. at 639 ("Even assuming arguendo we determined the challenged criteria violate Taft's substantive due process liberty rights, such a determination would not have any effect on the district court's determination at the annual review.").

         While Taft III, was pending, on February 25, 2015, the district court granted Taft's request for a final hearing, pursuant to section 229A.8(6), after his 2014 annual review.[1] The final hearing was held in September 2015. The State's expert, Dr. Stacey Hoem, a psychologist, testified she believed Taft was more likely than not to reoffend. She also testified Taft did not qualify for transitional release under section 229A.8A because he did not have an adequate relapse prevention plan and he recently had three disciplinary reports. Taft presented the testimony of Dr. Craig Rypma, a psychologist who stated Taft was not likely to reoffend and his relapse prevention plan was adequate. The jury returned a verdict finding Taft's mental abnormality had not changed so he was not suitable for discharge and he was not suitable for placement in the transitional release program. Taft now appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         Our review in this detention matter is for the correction of errors at law. See In re Det. of Shaffer, 769 N.W.2d 169, 172 (Iowa 2009). To the extent constitutional issues are raised, however, our review is de novo in light of the totality of the circumstances. See In re Det. of Matlock, 860 N.W.2d 898, 901 (Iowa 2015).

         III. Jury Instructions

         A. Taft claims the instructions impermissibly allowed the State to prove Taft was dangerous by a preponderance of the evidence. The jury was given the following instructions:

No. 10 In order to prove that the Respondent is not suitable for discharge, the State must prove that the Respondent's mental abnormality remains such that he is likely to engage in predatory acts that ...

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