Hendricks and the Future of Sex Offender Commitment Laws

By Janus, Eric S. | Developments in Mental Health Law, January-December 1998 | Go to article overview

Hendricks and the Future of Sex Offender Commitment Laws


Janus, Eric S., Developments in Mental Health Law


In its 1997 Hendricks decision, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator commitment law. In important ways, the decision gives states the green light to use civil commitment as a tool to address sexual violence. More broadly, the decision answers a number of questions about the constitutional limits on the use of civil commitment. Despite the answers, questions remain, particularly about the practical application of these constitutional limits. During the two years since Hendricks was decided, several important lower court decisions have begun to shed light on these questions. However, the most significant limits on the use of civil commitment will come from legislative and administrative policy decisions.

I. Sex Offender commitments

Sex offender commitments deploy civil-commitment-style confinement to address sexual violence. Beginning in the late 1930's, states began to enact civil commitment laws aimed at mentally disordered sex offenders. Eventually, such laws were enacted in over half the states.

These laws were conceived of as providing alternatives to imprisonment for sex offenders whose mental conditions rendered them "too sick to deserve punishment." By the mid-1970's, however, a number of influential studies declared these laws to be a failed experiment. The laws were based on the mistaken assumption that sex offenders displayed some medically valid diagnosis. Treatment for detainees was either not provided or had not been shown to be effective. Most states repealed or abandoned these first generation laws.

Since 1989, states have shown a renewed interest in using civil commitment to address sexual violence. The second generation laws differ from the first in a critical respect: instead of providing an alternative to prison, the new laws are specifically intended to extend the incapacitation of convicted sex offenders who are deemed too dangerous to release when their prison terms expire. About 12 states have adopted such laws and an equal number are considering them.

Sex offender commitment laws follow a uniform pattern, though there is some state-by-state variation. All of the laws are denominated "civil," rather than criminal. Civil laws are not subject to the strict constitutional constraints of the criminal law. This is an important feature of the laws, since the laws are designed to extend the incarceration of convicted sex offenders who have completed their penal sentences. Normal rules of criminal procedure prohibit lengthening a sentence beyond its expiration date and imprisoning an individual based on a prediction of future criminal activity. Typically, the commitment laws require proof of four elements: (1) A past course of sexually harmful conduct. All contemporary commitment schemes aim at individuals who have been convicted of, and have served prison time for, past crimes of sexual violence. (2) A current mental disorder or "abnormality." The Kansas law, for example, requires proof of a "mental abnormality or personality disorder," and defines "mental abnormality" as a "congenital or acquired condition affecting the emotional or volitional capacity." Minnesota law requires proof of a "sexual, personality, or other mental disorder or dysfunction." (3) A finding of risk of future sexually harmful conduct. The Kansas law requires a finding that the person is "predisposed" to "commit sexually violent offenses... in a degree constituting such person a menace to the health and safety of others." The Minnesota law requires a finding that the individual "is likely to engage in acts of harmful sexual conduct." (4) Finally, the laws require some form of connection between the mental abnormality and the danger. The Kansas law requires a showing that the mental abnormality "predisposes" the individual to commit sexually violent crimes. The Minnesota law states that the past history and the current mental disorder must "result in" the likelihood of future harmful behavior.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Hendricks and the Future of Sex Offender Commitment Laws
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.