Dangerous Sex Predators Can Be Confined after Sentence

Article excerpt

Sexual predators judged to be dangerous though not mentally ill can be held even after they finish serving their sentences, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The 5-4 ruling lets Kansas continue holding an admitted pedophile, Leroy Hendricks, who has said the only sure way he could keep from abusing children would be to die.

The court said people like Hendricks can be held indefinitely if they are considered mentally abnormal and are likely to commit new crimes. This procedure is a civil commitment to an institution, similar to laws affecting the mentally ill, and not a criminal proceeding. There is no special legal significance to the term "mentally ill," the court added, and said states can use other terms to describe who can be confined. Such confinement, intended to protect society, does not violate the constitutional right to due process and is not double punishment for the same crime, the justices said. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court majority, "The Kansas Legislature has taken great care to confine only a narrow class of particularly dangerous individuals, and then only after meeting the strictest procedural standards." The judgment on such prisoners is made by a judge or jury. Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall said of Monday's ruling, "It means that we can continue to protect the public from the worst kind of criminals that are in our society. That's the criminals who repeatedly and repeatedly prey upon children." Wendy McFarland, of the American Civil Liberties Union's Kansas and Western Missouri chapter, said, "Anticipating crimes before they've been committed and penalizing them before they happen is a precedent that should frighten every American." Five other states - Arizona, California, Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin - have laws similar to the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act. An Illinois law is awaiting the governor's signature. In the decision, Thomas wrote, "A finding of dangerousness, standing alone, is ordinarily not a sufficient ground upon which to justify indefinite involuntary commitment." But, he said, the Kansas law "links that finding to the existence of a `mental abnormality' or `personality disorder' that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the person to control his dangerous behavior." Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the four dissenters, said the Kansas law amounts to additional punishment for Hendricks because the state did not provide treatment for him while he was in prison. …