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In re Commitment of Joiner

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

August 30, 2019


          On Appeal from the 397th Judicial District Court Grayson County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. CV-17-1405

          Before Justices Myers, Molberg, and Carlyle



         Gregory Devon Joiner appeals the trial court's judgment finding Joiner is a sexually violent predator and civilly committing him pursuant to the Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §§ 841.001-.153. Joiner brings two issues on appeal contending the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the jury's finding beyond a reasonable doubt that he is a sexually violent predator. We affirm the trial court's judgment.


         When Joiner was eight or nine years old, he was exposed to pornography depicting rape. Joiner later explained to an evaluator that since that time, "his life has been dominated by masturbating to fantasies of aggravated sexual assault." In 1979, when Joiner was nineteen or twenty years old and living in Arkansas, he had a fantasy of kidnapping a woman, raping her, and brainwashing her to have her fall in love with him. He decided to carry out that fantasy. He leased an office space, ostensibly for a motorcycle shop, contacted an employment agency to hire a secretary, and he bought some paint and material to make a sign. On Friday, he went to the employment agency and hired the first woman he interviewed. On Saturday, he called her and told her to come into work the next day. On Sunday, when she came to the office, Joiner assigned her the task of making a sign. As she was making the sign, Joiner grabbed and tied her up.

         Joiner took the woman into the woods where he raped her. Joiner held her captive for three days, keeping her tied up and raping her repeatedly. He then let her go. He was arrested soon after. Joiner pleaded guilty in Arkansas to kidnapping and rape and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Joiner was released on parole after nine or ten months.

         After being paroled, Joiner moved to Texas and eventually to Grayson County. Joiner married and had two children. Ten years after the first offense, Joiner put on a mask and broke into his neighbors' house while the husband was away at work and the wife was home caring for her child. Joiner threatened to kill the child unless the woman cooperated. Joiner grabbed her by the hair and forced her into some nearby woods where he raped her. He let her go and went home and waited to be arrested. Joiner pleaded guilty to sexual assault-enhanced and was sentenced to thirty years' in prison. Joiner came up for parole twelve times, and parole was denied every time. During his incarceration, Joiner has had no communication or support from his former wives, his children, or his siblings.

         Joiner's mandatory release date was in April 2019. In 2017, the State filed a petition seeking a declaration that Joiner was a sexually violent predator and an order committing him for treatment and supervision. A jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Joiner was a sexually violent predator. The trial court signed a judgment civilly committing him.


         In a suit to commit a person as a sexually violent predator, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person (i) is a "repeat sexually violent offender" and (ii) "suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes the person likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence." Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 841.003(a), 841.062(a); see also id. § 841.002(8) (defining "sexually violent offense").

         A person is a repeat sexually violent offender if he has been convicted of more than one sexually violent offense and a sentence was imposed for at least one of the offenses. Id. § 841.003(b).

         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).

         A predatory act is "an act directed toward individuals, including family members, for the primary purpose of victimization." Id. § 841.002(5).

         In these cases, we use the criminal test for legal sufficiency. In re Commitment of Brown, No. 05-16-01178-CV, 2018 WL 947904, at *8 (Tex. App.-Dallas Feb. 20, 2018, no pet.) (mem. op.). Thus, we review the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to determine whether any rational factfinder could have found the required elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. It is the factfinder's responsibility to resolve conflicts in the testimony, weigh the evidence, and draw reasonable inferences from basic to ultimate facts. Id.

         Although factual-sufficiency review has been abandoned in criminal cases, as an intermediate appellate court with final authority over factual-sufficiency challenges in civil cases, we will perform a factual-sufficiency review in Chapter 841 cases when the issue is raised on appeal. Id. In our factual-sufficiency review, we consider whether the verdict, though supported by legally sufficient evidence, nevertheless reflects a risk of injustice that compels a new trial. Id. We view all the evidence in a neutral light and determine whether the jury was rationally justified in finding the required elements beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. We reverse only if the risk of an injustice is too great to allow the verdict to stand. Id. The jury is the sole judge of the witnesses' credibility and the weight to be given their testimony. Id. at *9. The jury may resolve conflicts in the evidence and believe all, part, or none of any witness's testimony. Id. We may not substitute our judgment for the jury's. Id.


         In his first issue, Joiner contends the evidence is legally insufficient to support the jury's finding beyond a reasonable doubt that he is a sexually violent predator. Joiner does not dispute that he is a repeat sexually violent offender. Instead, he asserts the State's expert witnesses presented no evidence that Joiner suffers from a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.

         The State presented the testimony of Dr. Sherri Gaines, a licensed psychiatrist, and Dr. Darrell Turner, a licensed psychologist. Dr. Turner has performed about 150 or 160 behavioral abnormality examinations, and Dr. Gaines has performed 130 behavioral abnormality examinations. Both doctors examined Joiner, and they concluded he suffers from a behavioral abnormality that predisposes him to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence.

         Joiner argues the doctors' testimony amounts to no evidence because it was conclusory or speculative. Opinion testimony that is wholly conclusory or speculative amounts to no evidence "because it does not tend to make the existence of a material fact 'more probable or less probable.'" In re Commitment of H.L.T., 549 S.W.3d 656, 661-62 (Tex. App.-Waco 2017, pet. denied) (quoting City of San Antonio v. Pollock, 284 S.W.3d 809, 816 (Tex. 2009)). Thus, "[b]are, baseless opinions will not support a judgment even if there is no objection to their admission in evidence." Id. at 662 (quoting Pollock, 284 S.W.3d at 816). "When a scientific opinion is admitted in evidence without objection, it may be considered probative evidence even if the basis for the opinion is unreliable." Id. (quoting Pollock, 284 S.W.3d at 818). "But if no basis for the opinion is offered, or the basis offered provides no support, the opinion is merely a conclusory statement and cannot be considered probative evidence, regardless of whether there is no objection." Id. (quoting Pollock, 284 S.W.3d at 818).

         Joiner did not object that Turner's and Gaines's opinions were unreliable during trial. Therefore, to prevail on his legal sufficiency claim, he must show in his appeal that the evidence offers no basis to support their opinions. Id. (citing Pollock, 284 S.W.3d at 817; In re Commitment of Barbee, 192 S.W.3d 835, 843 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2006, no pet.)).

         Both doctors testified at length about how they each reached the conclusion that Joiner had a behavioral abnormality that made him likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. They described the risk factors that made it more likely that Joiner would reoffend following his release, and they discussed the positive factors that went against his being a sexually violent predator.

         Dr. Gaines and Dr. Turner testified they examined Joiner and concluded he has behavioral abnormalities that make him more likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence. They both testified he has an antisocial personality disorder. Besides the sexual offenses, other evidence of Joiner's antisocial personality disorder included his criminal behavior from a young age (he stole a pair of boots when he was eight, stole a car when he was sixteen, and stole gas when he was eighteen), the fact that he ran away from home and hitchhiked across the country at age thirteen, and his unstable employment history, including his inability to complete his Marine Corps service. Joiner was also diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder by the prison doctors. Additionally, both doctors testified he has sexual deviancy, which Dr. Gaines diagnosed as unspecified paraphilic disorder and Dr. Turner diagnosed as sexual sadism.

         Dr. Gaines testified that Joiner's antisocial personality disorder and sexual deviance were the two major risk factors for his reoffending sexually. The combination of antisocial personality disorder and sexual deviancy "is a dangerous combination, and from my knowledge, something that makes someone likely to reoffend, depending on the other things about that person." Dr. Turner testified that "when there's a sexually deviant interest and there's a degree of antisociality, it acts as a fuel that allows them to act on that sexually deviant interest and victimize other people because they're so antisocial that they're okay with doing that."

         Both Dr. Gaines and Dr. Turner testified to Joiner's minimization of his offenses. In describing the first offense to the doctors and in his testimony at trial, Joiner testified that the first sex he had with the victim was nonconsensual, but that the sex they had after that over the next three days was consensual and sometimes initiated by the victim. The doctors testified Joiner's description of this offense fit his fantasy of brainwashing the victim to have her fall in love with him. Dr. Gaines testified Joiner's description of the offense was "entirely implausible"; Dr. Turner testified it was Joiner's "actual fantasy" and his "sexually deviant belief." They testified Joiner also minimized the second offense. In that offense, he grabbed the victim's hair at the back of her head and forced her out of the house. When Joiner testified about the offense at trial, he minimized his actions by stating, "I placed my hand behind her hair, like this, and I led her down the hallway through the living room out the back door." Dr. Gaines testified that Joiner's version of the events shows he is unaware of the harm he caused the victims, and Dr. Turner testified it demonstrated his antisocial personality disorder.

         Both doctors testified Joiner's lack of sex-offender treatment was a risk factor for his reoffending. Dr. Gaines testified that sexual deviancy is a chronic condition that lasts a person's lifetime. There is no medication for sexual deviancy.

The treatment for deviant sex is sex offender treatment. There's very specific sex offender treatment to focus on sexual deviance. This is cognitive behavioral treatment usually. So it helps the person examine their thoughts, helps the person examine triggers, helps the person examine cycles, helps the ...

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