Proceedings under Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act Considered Civil, Not Criminal

Developments in Mental Health Law, January-June 1987 | Go to article overview

Proceedings under Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act Considered Civil, Not Criminal


Allen v. Illinois,--U.S.--, 54 U.S. L.W. 4966 (June 24, 1986).

In a 5-4 opinion rendered on July 1, 1986, the United States Supreme Court held that the fifth amendment guarantee against compulsory self-incrimination does not apply to proceedings under the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act (Act) as they are civil, not criminal, in nature. The Court further ruled that the guarantee of due process under the fourteenth amendment does not require application of the privilege against self-incrimination to proceedings under the Act.

After criminal charges of unlawful restraint and deviate sexual assault against Terry B. Allen were dropped, a petition to declare him sexually dangerous was reinstated. Allen was ordered to submit to two psychiatric examinations after his rights under the Act were explained to him. When the examining psychiatrists presented their opinions at his trial, he objected on the grounds that his privilege against self-incrimination had been violated. However, the trial court found the defendant a sexually dangerous person under the Act based, in part, on the psychiatrists' assessment that he was mentally ill and had criminal propensities to commit sexual assaults.

The Appellate Court of Illinois for the Third District reversed on the ground that the trial court had violated Allen's privilege against self-incrimination by improperly relying on the psychiatrists' testimony.

The Supreme Court of Illinois then reversed the Appellate Court decision and found that he was a sexually dangerous person. The Court reasoned that since the Act's purpose was "treatment, not punishment," the proceedings under it were "essentially civil in nature." Therefore, the privilege against self-incrimination was not available, especially as the Court held that the information obtained could not be utilized in subsequent criminal proceedings against Allen. In so ruling, the Supreme Court noted that if potentially dangerous persons were permitted to refuse to answer psychiatric examination questions, the State's efforts to protect the public from sexually dangerous persons would be severely hampered.

The United States Supreme Court then granted certiorari and affirmed the Illinois Supreme Court ruling. The Court stated that the case chiefly involved an issue of statutory construction although the Illinois statute expressly specified that proceedings under the Act "shall be civil in nature." According to the Court, Allen failed to provide sufficient proof that the state's intent was negated by a statutory scheme that was, in actuality, punitive. The Court concurred with the Illinois Supreme Court judgment that the sexually-dangerous-person proceedings are essentially civil even though resembling criminal ones by virtue of the procedural safeguards included in the Act.

The Court discounted Allen's efforts to prove that the proceedings are criminal because a sexually-dangerous-person petition cannot be filed until criminal charges are brought against the individual. Under the Act, the state must prove, in addition to the commission of the sexual assault, the existence of a mental disorder for more than one year and propensity to commit sexual assaults. …

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Proceedings under Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act Considered Civil, Not Criminal
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