NEW YORK, NY On Nov. 9, 2020, the Center for HIV Law and Policy (CHLP) filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of Virginia in support of Galen Baughman, a young gay man at risk of indefinite civil confinement due to an unjust designation as a "sexually violent predator" (SVP). Earlier this year, on the basis of a technical parole violationsending non-sexual text messages to a sixteen-year-old acquaintance in another stateand despite having no record of violence, Galen was convicted of having a mental abnormality that predisposes him to commit violent sex crimes in the future.
CHLP's brief, which supports Galen's petition for appeal, describes the deep homophobic bias embedded in an already-Orwellian civil commitment assessment process, and in the drive to confine him as a dangerous predator in the absence of credible evidence.
At the time of his arrest, Galen was a Soros Fellow doing research on inequities related to state and federal sex offender registries. A forensic psychologist who had never met Galen testified that his social media contacts with a young man constituted "grooming" and evidence that Galen was planning to commit a sex crime against him in the future. Galen remained incarcerated for nearly three years while awaiting the trial and disposition of the Virginia Attorney General's petition to have him civilly committed. In August, the court released him to intensive supervision, 24/7 monitoring, regular questioning by a psychologist, and prohibitions on the use of most forms of social media and communication.
Anne Kelsey, an attorney with CHLP and the brief's primary author, stated, "Galen is being harshly punished for perfectly legal conduct. It shocks the conscience that, in the absence of an actual offense, Galen has been found to be one of the most dangerous men in the state under Virginia's civil commitment law. It is impossible to imagine such vigorous pursuit of a heterosexual man for non-sexual texts to a young person living in another state."
Currently, 20 states have laws allowing civil commitment of individuals designated as sexual offenders. In addition to bias against gay men, evidence also suggests that these laws are used disproportionately against black men. Investigative reports on even more restrictive systems, such as in New York State, have uncovered hugely arbitrary evaluation processes, a complete absence of real mental health services, chronic lack of essential medical care, and other conditions that reflect those of high-security prisons.
Catherine Hanssens, CHLP's founding executive director, noted that the real horror of laws such as Virginia's is what happens to people once they are charged and then committed. "Galen spent months in solitary confinement and was unable to have a private conversation with anyone other than his attorneys for years," she stated. "These laws do nothing less than lock people up on the basis of rigged science, created to justify imprisonment on the suspicion that a human being may do something bad in the future."
Legal organizations and professionals across the country joined CHLP's brief, including GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality (GLMA), the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Brad Sears, J.D., the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ), and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).
Galen is represented by attorneys from the law firm KaiserDillon PLLC. The National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) also filed an amicus brief in support of Galen's appeal. A third amicus brief was filed by a group of law professors and issue-area experts.
Read the brief: www.hivlawandpolicy.org/resources/baughman-v-commonwealth-amicus-brief-va-sup-ct-chlp-2020 .