Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law
Virginia Supreme Court Rejects Constitutional Challenges to Sexually Violent Predator Commitment Law
The U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997), and Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002), defused most federal constitutional challenges to the civil commitment of sexual offenders under the sexually violent predator (SVP) statutes enacted by many states in recent years. State constitutions could, nevertheless, provide an alternative basis for challenging these enactments.
The Virginia Supreme Court, however, determined that the due process protections afforded under the Virginia Constitution are co-extensive with those of the federal constitution and, in a case of first impression, upheld Virginia's SVP civil commitment legislation under both the federal and state constitutions. The court ruled that this legislation, which permits a sex offender to be civilly committed upon the completion of his prison term, did not violate double jeopardy prohibitions and was not an ex post facto enactment because its purpose is not to punish offenders but to protect public safety.
The court also concluded that the Virginia scheme satisfied the constitutional criteria established by Crane. The court determined that (1) proper procedures and evidentiary safeguards were provided, (2) the criterion that there be a finding of dangerousness either to one's self or to others was met by a required finding that the individual "constitutes a menace to the health and safety of others;" and (3) the obligation to link proof of dangerousness and lack of control to the condition of the individual was met by a required finding that the individual "because of a mental abnormality or personality disorder, finds it difficult to control his predatory behavior which makes him likely to engage in sexually violent acts. …