The trial to extend his incarceration ended after seven days with a jury's verdict on Sept. 5 that Mr. Johnson continued to fit the state's criteria of a sexually violent predator (SVP). Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti listed the reasons: "His prior sex offenses. The fact that he was diagnosed with paraphilia not otherwise specified, and the doctors' opinion that he is likely to re-offend."
Ms. Guidotti estimated that more than 25 felons in San Mateo County have been committed as sexually violent predators to date.
In general, those committed under this law have been convicted of specific sex offenses against at least one victim, and diagnosed with a mental disorder that suggests they're likely to re-offend if released. The law, which took effect in 1996, allows the offenders to be incarcerated at state mental hospitals after serving their original prison sentences as long as certain conditions are met, leading to attack by civil rights proponents who argue that it allows unfair punishment for those who have served their time.
Witnesses testifying on Mr. Johnson's behalf included his wife, sister, son and two psychologists who challenged the mental diagnosis, according to court records.
The appropriate classification of an offender as having a "paraphilia not otherwise specified" is a current controversy within the forensic mental health community.
Renowned psychiatrist Allen Frances posted his recent experience with a review of 28 sexually violent predator cases on the Psychology Today website. Noting that the review was unsystematic and not necessarily representative, he found that only two of the cases met the clinical definition of the disorder.
"My experience indicates that the SVP laws are being implemented in a highly arbitrary and idiosyncratic fashion with judges and juries easily confused by misleading expert testimony," Dr. Frances wrote on March 29. He concluded that "a very small proportion of criminal rapists committed under SVP statutes do qualify for a Paraphilia diagnosis. But the overwhelming majority of committed rapists do not qualify for a diagnosis of 'Paraphilia NOS.' This term is currently being misused and wildly over-diagnosed by evaluators who have a fundamental misunderstanding of (the clinical criteria)."
The controversy has attracted the attention of the California Department of Mental Health, which administers the commitment program. It recently launched a retraining program aimed at improving the accuracy of its diagnosticians.
Mr. Johnson's case goes to court again on Sept. 13, when defense attorney John Halley is expected to argue for a commitment term of two years, instead of one of indeterminate length. Mr. Halley declined to comment on the case.
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