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In re Commitment of Riojas

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 1, 2017

IN RE COMMITMENT OF Estevan RIOJAS

         From the 290th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2016-CI-02857 The Honorable Lamar McCorkle, Judge Presiding.

          Sitting: Marialyn Barnard, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice Irene Rios, Justice

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Irene Rios, Justice

         Based on a jury's finding that Estevan Riojas is a sexually violent predator (SVP), the trial court ordered him to be civilly committed pursuant to section 841.081 of the Texas Health and Safety Code ("Code"). On appeal, Riojas challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's finding that he suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. Riojas also contends the trial court abused its discretion in admitting certain testimony. We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Sexually Violent Predator Act

         Under chapter 841 of the Code, a trial court must commit a person for treatment and supervision if a factfinder determines the person is a SVP. Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 841.081(a) (West 2017). A person is a SVP if he "(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." Id. at § 841.003(a). A person is a repeat sexually violent offender if he "is convicted of more than one sexually violent offense and a sentence is imposed for at least one of the offenses...." Id. at § 841.003(b). A "behavioral abnormality" means "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. at § 841.002(2).

         Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In his second and third issues, Riojas challenges the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury's finding that he suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. Riojas does not challenge the jury's finding that he is a repeat sexually violent offender.

         A. Standard of Review

         Because the State was required to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Riojas is a SVP, we apply the legal sufficiency standard used in criminal cases. In re Commitment of Mares, 521 S.W.3d 64, 71-72 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2017, pet. denied); In re Commitment of Short, 521 S.W.3d 908, 911 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2017, no pet.). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, we determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, each of the elements required for commitment. In re Commitment of Mares, 521 S.W.3d at 72; In re Commitment of Short, 521 S.W.3d at 911. "'In reviewing the factual sufficiency of the evidence in a civil case in which the burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, an appellate court weighs [all] the evidence to determine whether a verdict that is supported by legally sufficient evidence nevertheless reflects a risk of injustice that would compel ordering a new trial.'" In re Commitment of Mares, 521 S.W.3d at 72 (quoting In re Commitment of Day, 342 S.W.3d 193, 213 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2011, pet. denied)).

         B. Evidence

         The jury in this case heard testimony from Riojas and from three experts.

         1. Dr. Jason Dunham

         Dr. Jason Dunham, a forensic psychologist, testified he specializes in sex offender evaluations and sex offender risk assessment which involves determining the likelihood or risk of a person reoffending. In the underlying case, Dr. Dunham was asked to offer an opinion regarding whether Riojas has a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. Dr. Dunham explained the term "likely" is not defined in the Code but "means there's a pretty good chance something is going to happen." Dr. Dunham stated he finds individuals do not have behavioral abnormalities in approximately one-third of the evaluations he performs. Dr. Dunham's methodology in undertaking an evaluation is to review a "referral packet, " conduct a face-to-face evaluation of the individual, perform and review testing and additional records, and write a report. Dr. Dunham stated the same methodology is used by all experts conducting evaluations. The "referral packet" generally contains basic information regarding the individual's convictions and any other charges against the individual, ...


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