One of the more controversial recent issues implicating the civil-criminal distinction is the civil commitment of sex offenders. In Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997), the Supreme Court held that states could detain sex offenders who completed their prison sentences but remained sexually dangerous due to mental abnormalities. The sex offender in this case, Leroy Hendricks, complained that, among other things, this constituted punishment and therefore ran afoul of the constitutional prohibitions on double jeopardy (because he had already been prosecuted) and ex post facto laws (because the statute was enacted after he committed his crimes). The Court did not agree with those claims, deeming Kansas’s Sexually Violent Predator Act civil, not criminal. That meant Hendricks was not being punished and couldn’t rely on double jeopardy or ex post facto protections. This holding generated much criticism from the academy
Today, Minnesota Public Radio had this interesting report about Minnesota’s sex offender civil commitment program. Here is an excerpt:
Before the legislative session began, former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson set up interviews with the news media and sent a message: If legislators didn’t act quickly, a federal judge in a class-action suit would rule the Minnesota Sex Offender Program unconstitutional. The program is supposed to provide treatment, but it has released only one of about 700 people being indefinitely detained. The program costs the state $326 a day to hold and provide treatment for each offender at two secure facilities at Moose Lake and St. Peter — three times the average cost of keeping an offender in prison….
It will be interesting to see what the judges handling this class action decide to do.
By the way, in Hendricks, the Court found that treatment was not necessary for Kansas’s Sexually Violent Predator Act to be found constitutional. Leroy Hendricks was finally released in 2005, after about 11 years of detention beyond his prison sentence. By this time, he was 70 years old and had suffered a stroke that limited the use of his hands, and also remained under constant supervision.