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In re Commitment of Vela

Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg

December 12, 2019

IN RE THE COMMITMENT OF JUAN VELA

          On appeal from the 214th District Court of Nueces County, Texas.

          Before Justices Benavides, Hinojosa, and Tijerina

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GINA M. BENAVIDES, Justice

         By a single issue, appellant Juan Vela appeals his civil commitment as a sexually violent predator. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 841.003. He challenges the State's use of evidence of details of his 1980 offenses and 1995 criminal convictions as part of the State's expert testimony on the grounds that the probative value of the evidence was substantially outweighed by its prejudicial nature. We affirm.

         I. Background

         A. Prior Sexual Convictions

         Vela was convicted on February 20, 1995, in Cause No. 93-CR-1379-F in Nueces County, Texas of aggravated sexual assault of a child which occurred on or about March 9, 1993, and he was sentenced as a habitual felony offender. Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 22.021, 12.42. On that same date, Vela was also convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a child which occurred on or about January 9, 1993. See id. § 22.021. Vela was sentenced to concurrent forty year sentences in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Institutional Division. In 1981, Vela was convicted of sexual conduct with a minor and sentenced to seven months' probation in Arizona.

         B. Civil Commitment Proceeding

         The State filed its original petition seeking Vela's civil commitment in June 2017 on the grounds that he qualifies as a sexually violent predator pursuant to Chapter 841 of the Texas Health and Safety Code. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §§ 841.001- .153; In re Commitment of Gomez, 535 S.W.3d 917, 919 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi- Edinburg 2017, pet. dism'd). Under Texas law, a person can be found to be a "sexually violent predator" 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." In re Commitment of Gomez, 535 S.W.3d at 919.

         Vela's Texas crimes constitute sexually violent offenses. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. §§ 841.002(8)(A), 841.003(b)(1); see also In re Commitment of Stonecipher, No. 14-18-00143-CV, 2019 WL 1119780, at *1 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] Mar. 12, 2019, no pet.) (mem. op.). A "[b]ehavioral 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." Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 841.002(2).

         C. Evidence

         There were two witnesses during the trial: the State's expert, Darrel Turner, Ph.D., and Vela. Dr. Turner is a forensic psychologist who has conducted approximately 150 evaluations of sexual offenders in Texas and Louisiana in the state and federal criminal justice systems. To prepare for his testimony, Dr. Turner was furnished with records related to Vela's criminal, medical, penal and institutional history, as well as Vela's deposition in this case. Dr. Turner interviewed Vela for approximately two hours and performed psychological testing on him.

         Dr. Turner testified that Vela suffers from a behavior abnormality that makes him likely to engage in sexually violent offenses. According to Dr. Turner, the two biggest factors in determining the risk of reoffending sexually are antisociality and sexual deviance. Dr. Turner testified that Vela is sexually deviant primarily based upon his attraction to prepubescent male children and that Vela met the criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria for sexual deviance for pedophilia. Pedophilia is a condition that affects a person's emotional or volitional capabilities. Dr. Turner further testified that Vela's history of offenses, including sexual offenses, indicates a pattern of inability to control his behavior. Vela has never successfully completed parole or probation before committing another offense and has been incarcerated most of his adult life.

         Dr. Turner also diagnosed Vela with antisocial personality disorder from the DSM- 5. He described someone with that disorder as "an individual that basically sees themselves as quite entitled, and as deserving of essentially whatever they want." He ...


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