Daniel Kriegman is an expert in counseling sex offenders -- and the founder of a religion called Yoism.
expertise in sex offenses is why Kriegman was called to testify at the
August 2007 civil commitment trial of a Saratoga County man who had
sexually abused two different girls under the age of 8. However, the
state attorney pushing to commit the sex offender decided to challenge
Kriegman on the stand about Yoism -- and that challenge is at the core
of a ruling from the state's highest court.
In that ruling last
week, the Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for the sex offender,
identified as Andrew O., because of the assistant attorney general's
questions to Kriegman about Yoism.
In New York, civil commitment
is still relatively young -- now in its fourth year. Cases, like that of
Andrew O., are just now winding their way through regional appellate
courts and laying the legal groundwork for the future of civil
The cases are often conducted out of the public eye
because files can be sealed and courts can be closed. This week, two sex
offenders are scheduled to be the focus of civil commitment hearings in
courts in Rochester.
Under New York's program, the state targets
individuals determined likely to be repeat sexual offenders who suffer
from a "mental abnormality." A jury determines whether the individual
does suffer from a mental defect, and a judge then can sentence the
offender to commitment at a state psychiatric facility or an intensive
With a cost of $175,000 a year for facility-based
treatment -- and a possibility the offender will never be freed -- New
York's is the costliest civil commitment program in the country.
Already, the state has likely spent close to $1 million in the case of
Andrew O. -- with his treatment and court costs -- and now must return
to court again to determine his future.
While the Attorney
General's Office contends that the evidence is overwhelming that Andrew
O. deserves civil commitment, the Court of Appeals determined that the
attack on Kriegman's religion was completely out of bounds.
trial ... boiled down to a battle of the experts in which Andrew O's
expert was portrayed as unreliable because he adhered to an
out-of-the-mainstream religion," the court wrote. "It is impossible to
know whether or to what extent the jury's assessment of the expert's
testimony was prejudiced as a result."
In his 2007 trial, the jury determined Andrew O. did have a dangerous mental abnormality and a judge
decided to commit him.
the Court of Appeals noted, civil commitment trials can be a "battle of
the experts" -- even more than criminal trials. The state uses its own
experts to highlight an offender's sexual predatory history as proof of
the mental defect, while the offender usually relies on experts who
contend that the criminal can be safely released with supervision.
O.'s case fell into the same framework, until the state's attorney
launched the assault on Kriegman's Yoism and the judge did not curb the
line of questioning.
On the stand, Kriegman described Yoism as
similar to Unitarianism. Its tenets, according to its website, include
environmental protection, the desire to "develop democracy's untapped
potential," and a belief system based largely on one's empirical
Kriegman said in a telephone interview Friday
that he has never been questioned about the religion in "the hundreds
and hundreds" of cases in which he has testified over the past 25 years.
"If a Christian Science expert testified, would you be able to
question him about his beliefs?" Kriegman said.
"Or a Mormon?"
O. also challenged the evidence against him in his appeal, a challenge
the Court of Appeals determined to be "without merit."
The Attorney General's Office declined comment