Thursday, February 10, 2011

Irony and the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (SOMTA)

There was widespread outrage at the conduct of Nushawn Williams, who was alleged to have had unprotected sex with numerous girls and women despite being told he was HIV positive (see). This failure to inform the women that they risked not merely pregnancy or an STD, but rather a potentially fatal infection, without cure, meant that the sexual encounters were not truly consensual. Indeed, now that Mr. Williams is completing his sentence for a conviction by guilty plea for the statutory rape of two of these women, New York is attempting to have Mr. Williams civil committed as a detained sex offender requiring confinement pursuant to the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (SOMTA)(see).

Today, the Court of Appeals, in People v Harnett (2011 NY Slip Op 00744 [2/11/11/]) rejected the argument that since a possible consequence of a plea to a sex conviction is a lifetime civil commitment, fundamental fairness requires that the failure to warn a defendant who pleads guilty to a sex offense that he may be subject to the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (SOMTA) automatically invalidate the guilty plea.

The Court did "recommend to trial courts that the possible effects of SOMTA be explained to anyone pleading guilty to an offense that may result in SOMTA proceedings."

In so holding, the Court ruled that the undisclosed possibility that a plea might result in a lifetime commitment does not automatically render the plea unintelligent or involuntary.

1 comment:

  1. But wait! If defendants were informed of this potential life sentence, that would surely cut down on pleas, resulting in more trials, and no one wants that, right?

    So, based on the Court's logic, there is no functional difference to a defendant's election to accept a plea between "the plea is 2-4" and "the plea is 2-4, but it might turn into life later - want to roll the dice?" Remember the hernial reach from first year law school? The logic of this decision is surely truss-inducing.