8th Circuit’s ruling threatens civil liberties of all Americans

By Noah Feldman . . . In a major blow to civil liberties, an appeals court has upheld the Minnesota system that civilly commits sex offenders after they’ve served their prison terms, a confinement from which no one has ever been fully released. The decision, filed Tuesday, used the wrong legal standard, making it too easy for the state to lock people up indefinitely for future dangerousness. Worse, the U.S. Supreme Court might not review the decision, despite its being egregiously wrong, because there is no clear disagreement among the circuit courts.

The Minnesota Civil Commitment and Treatment of Sex Offenders Act, enacted in 1994, says any county attorney can ask a state district court to determine that a person is “sexually dangerous” or has a “sexually psychopathic personality.” If the court agrees that the county attorney has demonstrated this by clear and convincing evidence, the person is committed indefinitely, against his or her will, to a “secure treatment facility.”

There is no regular review to see whether the person should be released. The only way to get out is for the confined person to ask a review board to determine that he or she is no longer dangerous.

Minnesota maintains three facilities for civilly committed sex offenders. Two are “secured,” meaning they are enclosed like prisons. The third, while still mandatory, is outside the fence of one of the other sites.

Since 1994, 714 people have been committed, according to the decision. Amazingly, not a single one has been fully released. Three people have been provisionally discharged from the program. That means the other 711 are still living in state facilities. In essence, Minnesota’s civil committal program is a one-way ticket to permanent confinement.

To be clear, this confinement happens only after sex offenders have been convicted of crimes and served their full sentences. The theory isn’t that they’re being punished or paying their debt to society. It’s that they are being confined because they pose a continuing danger to others.

In 1997, the Supreme Court upheld a Kansas post-conviction civil committal statute that required a finding of future dangerousness. In doing so, the court emphasized that the law required a new hearing every year at which the state had to prove dangerousness beyond a reasonable doubt. It said the confinement therefore wasn’t indefinite.

A federal district court thought the Minnesota program was different. In 2015, it held that the program violated the constitutional due process rights of those committed.

The essence of the district court’s logic was that if the state is going to confine people against their will, it has an obligation to provide regular evaluation and review. It found that although in theory the law allowed for less restrictive means of keeping an eye on offenders, in fact the system kept people locked up even if they were no longer dangerous. And it said the treatment program was a mess with no meaningful relationship to eventual release.

The state appealed, and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. Two of the judges on the panel were George W. Bush appointees. The third was appointed by Bill Clinton. The opinion was written by Judge Bobby Shepherd, one of the Bush appointees.

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10 Thoughts to “8th Circuit’s ruling threatens civil liberties of all Americans”

  1. AvatarLovecraft

    Robin, do you have any stats on the number of offenders released versus the number they commit? I just wonder how commonplace it is for them to commit someone being released from prison. Also are the people being committed only hands on or can it be any charge?

    When I saw an article posted about this on here the other day I wanted to get more information on it before letting my mind run too wild. It really is terrifying reading stuff like this. Part of me wants to pack up and run for whatever border will take me. Being fearful generates a fight or flight response, but when the government allows the deck to be stacked against you especially after serving your time flight seems more reasonable and self preserving. While I intend to stay and fight, I think it’s important to keep a close eye on what goes on across the US. If they get away with this who’s to say they won’t try to apply something similar to all of us.

    1. FredFred

      I am not Robin, but I will answer.

      Since 1994, 714 people have been commited. Not a single one has been fully released

      My big concern is that other states will now use this and apply it to a larger number of people because they will not be held accountable and there is money in it if they commit more.

    2. AvatarLovecraft

      Fred, thanks for your comment, but I imagine more than 700 sex offenders have completed their prison sentence in Minnesota since 1994. I could be wrong, but 700 total released seems awful low for 23 years, but 700 committed over 23 years seems possible albeit utterly disgusting. I was curious if anyone could find the stats on all sex offenders released from then til now versus the ones they committed. I was curious on the frequency.

    3. FredFred

      I understand. I thought you meant how many released from the civil commitmentment, not prison.

      I wonder if those statistics are kept somewhere.

  2. AvatarD M Jacques

    Is there any movement for reforming this in the legislature?

  3. AvatarErika

    quote: “…The Minnesota Civil Commitment and Treatment of Sex Offenders Act, enacted in 1994, says any county attorney can ask a state district court to determine that a person is “sexually dangerous” or has a “sexually psychopathic personality.” If the court agrees that the county attorney has demonstrated this by clear and convincing evidence, the person is committed indefinitely, against his or her will, to a “secure treatment facility.” …”

    How would you be able to prove this by “clear and convincing evidence?” based on a persons behavior in an artificial setting (current) where there human and civil rights are being violated everyday and if they get angry about it then they have impulsivity problems and are likely to reoffend? I don’t buy it period! It is impossible to prove this! Truly a “Double Jeopardy” violation of the constitution.

    The State is abusing the mental health nomenclature and the community itself and any mental health professional participating in this criminal gestapo like conduct should be prosecuted and barred by the APA AMA from practicing any kind of mental health treatment of any human being.

  4. AvatarDave D

    The “Sex Offender system” is set up to enact revenge, punish repeatedly sometimes forever, segregate, and reduce the civil liberties of any who find themselves in this program. To admit just one of these would make the program illegal. They just change the definitions of words and make up whatever is necessary to get it done.

  5. AvatarIn Search of Liberty

    Is it fair to surmise that the era of Nazi style concentration/extermination camps has officially begun in America? In the 1930s Hitler and his Nazi thugs created Buchenwald,Treblinka, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and in my opinion the most famous of all Nazi camps, Auschwitz , then crowned Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler’s (SS Chief) with his twisted, psychotic & demonic brain to oversee these camps. Will this 8th Circuit Court ruling guide/push American to their versions of Buchenwald,Treblinka, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz for RSOs? Will the states and feds like Hitler, appoint a Reichsführer to over see these concentration/extermination camps beginning with or designed right now for RSOs? My crystal ball tells me a path will have to be laid first. Therefore, if SCOTUS grants the Writ of Certiorari filed by the Michigan AG in the Does v. Snyder 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Michigan’s SO laws are “Punishment” and therefore, “UNCONSTITUTIONAL” and then “Overturn” the 6th Circuit’s ruling and maintain their holding in Smith v. Doe (2003), then my friends my crystal ball goes on to tell me that RSO’s asses are in deep do do!!! A Snyder loss will be like opening the gates of hell to unleash all manner of demonic/satanic forces. I am referring of course to state and federal legislatures. These people, just as they did after Smith in 2003, will begin a renewed wave of evil and Draconian SO laws that will eventually and inevitably lead to Nazi concentrations camps—American style. don’t believe me? Well my RSO friends, lets just wait and see.

  6. Actually if you really use forethought all these internet sex sting operations done on adult chat sites to catch sex predators are bogus attempts to catch anyone that is carnal by nature.
    It lessens the creditability of the United States Government and the President. Protecting a fictitious person is unheard of. Where is truth, justice and the American Way. Are we an unjust nation or has America lost their balance. Now we are not catching people in public but thru some machine of a two way mirror.
    This devilish tactic that Police have came up with is no more than the invention of a devil to instill terror to anyone with a dirty mouth whether one ask for sex or is coerced into sex by some trickery or crafty means.
    I am sure the American Voters did not come up with any of this to instill on loved ones it is the Crafty Government and the President goes along with this in his mean’s form and fashion to protect what or who.
    Real justice is done in public not with someone behind a desk pretending to be some fictitious person behind a screen that is giving love calls of a sexual innuendo.
    Lying and deceit have become the form of American Justice of today for these sex offender situations done thru internet screens by those that suppose to honestly protect and serve.

  7. Avatarmike

    if we could get a 10 person panel of honest liberals, and they think that he deserves to be confined indefinitely, I don’t see a problem with it. A lot of them really are lost causes. Maybe about 8% of them, that’s quite a few.

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