Thursday, February 10, 2011
Last week Nushawn Williams went before a judge in Erie County in an attempt to have the state’s civil confinement petition dismissed. This is the second time he’s attempted to have the commitment petition thrown out, but he now has very competent legal assistance, and a recent New York State Court of Appeals decision seems to be in his favor.
The Appellate Court decision involved Mustafa Rashid. In 1988, he committed a horrible sex crime in the Bronx, one that involved a forcible rape, an act of sodomy, and a stabbing. He was released on parole in 1999, and, he soon committed another horrific crime, this one involving another break-in, threats of extreme violence, allegedly fondling an infant, and masturbation. He left the scene with some cash, provided to him by the woman that he assaulted. He eventually pled guilty to robbery and weapons possession.
New York State sought to have Rashid civilly confined based upon his history of sex crimes and recurrent criminal behavior. He appealed and the case eventually made it to the state’s highest court. The central question was whether Rashid was under state supervision for a sex crime at the time that Article 10 of the Mental Hygiene Law went into affect. The statute did not cover those who had been convicted previous to its passage, nor to those under supervision in the community, only to those at the time who were in state custody for a sex crime or related offense. While Rashid was, in fact, in custody at the time that the state filed its confinement petition, the crime that he was in custody for, was the weapon’s charge, which is not included under the law as a sex crime. The state’s high court agreed and Rashid was discharged.
Nushawn was originally convicted of three sets of crimes, statutory rape (having sex with underage girls), a cocaine charge, and reckless endangerment. Only the first is a sex crime under the state’s list of crimes eligible for civil commitment. The question now is whether he served out his sentence for the statutory rape charges and moved on to the non-sexualized crimes before the civil confinement law went into affect. His plea agreement specifies that he serve his sentences consecutively, with the statutory rape charges served first. If that is the case, then he would not be eligible for civil confinement, because, when the law was passed, he was not in state custody for a listed sex crime. The Rashid case suggests that the state can’t just mix everything together once a person is convicted and sentenced for a sex crime.
The judge heard the case last week, and has taken it under advisement. I’m not optimistic that the trial judge in this case will allow Nushawn to be released under any circumstances, given the high profile nature of the case. But chances on appeal may be looking up, given the seeming willingness on the part of the state’s higher courts to take a dispassionate look at the law and facts in these types of highly incendiary cases.