Court: Control a factor for sex offenders

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent   |   Jan. 22, 2002 at 11:38 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Tuesday a state must show a sexual offender suffers from some lack of personal control before it can commit him to an institution after serving a prison sentence.

Tuesday's ruling invalidates part of Kansas's Sexual Predator Act -- at least 16 states have such laws and many more are considering them -- but also revisits a 1997 Supreme Court decision upholding the act.

In the 1997 decision, Kansas vs. Hendricks, the Supreme Court majority said the Kansas act was constitutional, even though under its terms the state could commit an offender to an indefinite stay in a mental institution if a judge found the offender abnormal.

In Hendricks, the court majority said the confinement was "civil," as opposed to a "criminal" prison sentence, and therefore did not punish an offender twice for the same offense.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the new Kansas case the state law as it was being applied is not constitutional.

A state does not have to prove total or complete lack of control, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the high court majority. A state must prove, however, there is some lack of control for constitutional due process to be satisfied.

Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, dissented.

"Today, the (Supreme) Court holds that the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act cannot, consistent with so-called substantive due process, be applied as written," Scalia said. "It does so even though, less than five years ago, we upheld the very same statute against the very same contention in an appeal by the very same petitioner (the state of Kansas) from the judgment of the very same court."

"Snatching back" a victory so recently won by Kansas "cheapens the currency of our judgments," Scalia said.

Tuesday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court sends the case back to the Kansas Supreme Court for a new decision based on the majority opinion.

In the underlying case that brought the new ruling, Michael T. Crane was convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior and convicted of aggravated sexual battery.

In the first offense, Crane exposed himself at a tanning salon. In the second, he exposed himself in a video store, then grabbed the clerk by the neck and demanded oral sex before running out of the store.

Tuesday's ruling means Crane must have another commitment hearing process in which the state must show not only that he will be likely to repeat sexual violence, but that he has some inability to control that behavior.

(No. 00-957, Kansas vs. Crane)

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