State May Appeal No-Probable-Cause Order In Sexually Violent Person Commitment Action

Tommy Hardin had been convicted of aggravated sexual crimes three times. Just before his mandatory supervised release period, the State petitioned for Hardin’s civil commitment under the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act.

After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court ruled there was no probable cause to believe Hardin was a sexually violent person who was likely to re- offend. So a trial on the State’s commitment petition was not held, and the court ordered Hardin to be released and placed on supervision.

The State appealed the finding of no probable cause. Hardin asked the appellate court to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. He argued alternative reasons: (1) the Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act does not authorize the State to appeal a finding of no probable cause; (2) the order in this case was not final and appealable. The Second District Illinois Appellate Court denied Hardin’s request to dismiss, and reversed the trial court’s finding of no probable cause.

Hardin then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, which affirmed the appellate court’s decision. The supreme court agreed there was jurisdiction to consider the State’s appeal. The court rejected Hardin’s argument that the no-probable-cause finding could not be appealed because the Act did not specifically authorize it.

[T]he primary error in respondent’s [Hardin’s] argument is his reliance on the statute’s purported silence. His argument overlooks express statutory language affirmatively stating that “[t]he proceedings under this Act shall be civil in nature … Thus, the Act is not silent about the applicable rules, as respondent claims, but rather directs us to consider the applicable civil provisions.

The Illinois Supreme Court also rejected Hardin’s argument that the no-probable-cause finding was not appealable because it was not a final order. “First, his [Hardin’s] analogy to adverse rulings in criminal probable cause hearings fails because it ignores the statute’s plain directive to apply civil law …” Second, the court ruled, the no-probable-cause finding was final because “the State’s petition [for commitment] had to be dismissed … effectively terminating the litigation and defining both parties’ rights, leaving only enforcement of the judgment.”

In the end, a unanimous supreme court ruled there was sufficient evidence that probable cause existed, so the case was sent back to the trial court for trial on the State’s commitment petition. Read the whole opinion, In re Detention of Hardin, No. 108615 (6/24/10), by clicking here.