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In re Commitment of Chappell

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

January 23, 2014


Submitted on December 13, 2013

On Appeal from the 435th District Court Montgomery County, Texas Trial Cause No. 12-05-05202-CV.

Before McKeithen, C.J., Kreger and Johnson, JJ.



Background Facts Jeffery Brian Chappell ("Chappell") appeals from the judgment and order of civil commitment rendered by the trial court after a jury found Chappell to be a "sexually violent predator." See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 841.001-841.151 (West 2010 & Supp. 2013) ("the SVP statute").

Chappell is a convicted sex offender who is also deaf.[1] The record indicates that he attended several different schools as a child, that he completed the eighth grade, that he can read and write the English language, that he can speak some words on a limited basis, that his preferred means of communication is sign language, and that his secondary means of communication is by written word. During each stage of the civil proceeding below, certified sign language interpreters were utilized at trial to interpret the statements of the trial judge, the witnesses, and the attorneys, and Chappell was provided his own individual sign language interpreter to sit with Chappell and assist with communication during the trial. Furthermore, the trial court granted Chappell's request for a "real time" court reporter and transcription of the proceedings.

Chappell raises three issues on appeal. In his first two issues, he challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence. In his third issue, he complains about the trial court's pretrial ruling that denied his motion to control the pace of the questions and answers of the witnesses at trial. In his pretrial motion to control the pace, Chappell requested that the trial court require a pause after each question and each answer so that he could then use sign language to confer with his attorney. We affirm.

The Criminal Convictions

In 1995, Chappell pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, three counts of aggravated sexual assault of two children, B.M. and D.G., both under the age of fourteen. In Chappell's responses to Requests for Admissions, Chappell also admitted to another conviction. For each sexual assault, Chappell received a twenty-year sentence. In 1995, Chappell was also convicted of indecency with a child by exposure. At the time of the civil commitment trial, Chappell was serving his twenty-year sentences for the two aggravated sexual assaults.

The SVP Statute

Alleging that Chappell is a "sexually violent predator, " the State instituted an involuntary civil commitment proceeding. A person is a "sexually violent predator" subject to commitment if the person: "(1) is a repeat sexually violent offender; and (2) suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes the person likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence." Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 841.003(a) (West 2010). A "behavioral abnormality" is "a congenital or acquired condition that, by affecting a person's emotional or volitional capacity, predisposes the person to commit a sexually violent offense, to the extent that the person becomes a menace to the health and safety of another person." Id. § 841.002(2) (West Supp. 2013). "A condition which affects either emotional capacity or volitional capacity to the extent a person is predisposed to threaten the health and safety of others with acts of sexual violence is an abnormality which causes serious difficulty in behavior control." In re Commitment of Almaguer, 117 S.W.3d 500, 506 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2003, pet. denied). The inability to control behavior "must be sufficient to distinguish the dangerous sexual offender whose serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder subjects him to civil commitment from the dangerous but typical recidivist convicted in an ordinary criminal case." Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 413, 122 S.Ct. 867, 151 L.Ed.2d 856 (2002).

Sufficiency of the Evidence

In his first two issues, Chappell contends there is legally and factually insufficient evidence to support "the jury's verdict that [he] currently suffers from a 'condition' or has serious difficulty controlling his behavior." See In re Commitment of Mullens, 92 S.W.3d 881, 885 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 2002, pet. denied) (legal sufficiency standard of review). We disagree.

Chappell contends Dr. Sheri Gaines, the State's expert, provided no scientific basis for her opinion that Chappell currently is displaying symptoms of pedophilia to the extent he is emotionally or volitionally impaired and likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. Chappell contends the State failed to prove that he is likely to engage in a predatory act for the primary purpose of victimization, and that the State failed to meet Kansas v. Crane's requirement ...

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