SVP Landmark Cases

Steven Gaskell, Psy.D. Landmark Cases, Sex Offender Recidivism, Sex Offender Risk Assessment, Sex Offenders, Sexually Violent Person, Sexually Violent Predators 0 Comments

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Steven Gaskell, Psy.D.

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Dr. Gaskell, forensic psychologist at Psycholegal Assessments, Inc., has completed over 1300 Forensic Psychological Evaluations including more than 750 sex offender evaluations, mostly within the context of Sexually Violent Person or Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) evaluations.  Dr. Gaskell accepts referrals for sex offender evaluations of pre-probable cause and post-probable cause Sexually Violent Person and Sexually Violent Predator Evaluations nationwide, with the exception of Illinois.  Second opinion sex offender evaluations and trial consultation services are also available.  This post explores the Sexually Violent Person and Sexually Violent Predator landmark cases.

Sexually Violent Predator Landmark CasesSexually Violent Person - Sexually Violent Predator

Kansas v. Hendricks (US Supreme Court, 1997) – set forth procedures for the indefinite civil commitment of prisoners convicted of a sexual offense whom the state deems dangerous due to a mental abnormality.

The Supreme Court held:

1. The Act’s definition of “mental abnormality” satisfies “substantive” due process requirements.  An individual’s constitutionally protected liberty interest in avoiding physical restraint may be overridden even in the civil context (Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 26).  This Court has consistently upheld involuntary commitment statutes that detain people who are unable to control their behavior and thereby pose a danger to the public health and safety, provided the confinement takes place pursuant to proper procedures and evidentiary standards (Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71, 80.  The Act unambiguously requires a precommitment finding of dangerousness either to one’s self or to others, and links that finding to a determination that the person suffers from a “mental abnormality” or “personality disorder.”  Generally, this Court has sustained a commitment statute if it couples proof of dangerousness with proof of some additional factor, such as a “mental illness” or “mental abnormality,” see e.g., Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 314-315, for these additional requirements serve to limit confinement to those who suffer from a volitional impairment rendering them dangerous beyond their control.   The Act sets forth comparable criteria with its precommitment requirement of “mental abnormality” or “personality disorder.”  Contrary to Hendricks’ argument, this Court has never required States to adopt any particular nomenclature in drafting civil commitment statutes and leaves to the States the task of defining terms of a medical nature that have legal significance (Cf. Jones v. United States, 463 U.S. 354, 365, n. 13.  The legislature is therefore not required to use the specific term “mental illness” and is free to adopt any similar term. Pp. 8-13.

2. The Act does not violate the Constitution’s double jeopardy prohibition or its ban on ex post-facto lawmaking. Pp. 13-24.

(a) The Act does not establish criminal proceedings, and involuntary confinement under it is not punishment.  The categorization of a particular proceeding as civil or criminal is a question of statutory construction (Allen v. Illinois, 478 U.S., 364, 368).  Nothing on the face of the Act suggests that the Kansas Legislature sought to create anything other than a civil commitment scheme.  That manifest intent will be rejected only if Hendricks provides the clearest proof that the scheme is so punitive in purpose or effect as to negate Kansas’ intention to deem it civil (United States v. Ward, 448 U.s. 242, 248-249).  He has failed to satisfy this heavy burden.  Commitment under the Act does not implicate either of the two primary objectives of criminal punishment: retribution or deterrence.  Its purpose is not retributive:  It does not affix culpability for prior criminal conduct, but uses such conduct solely for evidentiary purposes; it does not make criminal conviction a prerequisite for commitment; and it lacks a scienter requirement, an important element in distinguishing criminal and civil statutes.  Nor can the Act be said to act as a deterrent, since persons with a mental abnormality or personality disorder are unlikely to be deterred by the threat of confinement.  The conditions surrounding confinement–essentially the same as conditions for any civilly committed patient–do not suggest a punitive purpose.  Although the commitment scheme here involves an affirmative restraint, such restraint of the dangerously mentally ill has been historically regarded as a legitimate nonpunitive objective (Cf. United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 747.  The confinement’s potentially indefinite duration is linked, not to any punitive objective, but to the purpose of holding a person until his mental abnormality no longer causes him to be a threat to others.  He is thus permitted immediate release upon a showing that he is no longer dangerous, and the longest he can be detained pursuant to a single judicial proceeding is one year.  The State’s use of procedural safeguards applicable in criminal trials does not itself turn the proceedings into criminal prosecution (Allen, supra, at 372).  Finally, the Act is not necessarily punitive if it fails to offer treatment where treatment for a condition is not possible, or if treatment, though possible, is merely an ancillary, rather than an overriding, state concern.  The conclusion that the Act is nonpunitive removes an essential prerequisite for both Hendricks’ double jeopardy and ex post-facto claims. Pp. 13-21.

(b) Hendricks’ confinement does not amount to a second prosecution and punishment for the offense for which he was convicted.  Because the Act is civil in nature, its commitment proceedings do not constitute a second prosecution. Cf. Jones, supra.  As this commitment is not tantamount to punishment, the detention does not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause, even though it follows a prison term (Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107.  Hendricks’ argument that, even if the Act survives the “multiple punishments” test, it fails the “same elements” test of Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299,  is rejected, since that test does not apply outside of the successive prosecution context. Pp. 22-23.

(c) Hendricks’ ex post-facto claim is similarly flawed.  The Ex Post-Facto Clause pertains exclusively to penal statutes. California Dept. of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499, 505.  Since the Act is not punishment, its application does not raise ex post-facto concerns.  Moreover, the Act clearly does not have retroactive effect.  It does not criminalize conduct legal before its enactment or deprive Hendricks of any defense that was available to him at the time of his crimes. Pp. 23-24.

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