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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Kansas v. Hendricks: Institutionalizing Sexual Predators

     While no one knows exactly how many pedophiles roam our streets and inhabit our institutions, anyone who is paying attention knows there are many of them, too many. Not only that, each pedophile is a serial offender with dozens of victims. And these sexual deviants cannot be rehabilitated. For them there is no cure, no treatment.

     So what can be done to protect potential victims against these sexual predators? Just catching them and sending them to prison isn't enough because they eventually get out and go right back to seducing and sexually violating children. Laws requiring convicted pedophiles to register as sex offenders and restricting where they can live doesn't deal with the problem either. These measures are legislative window dressing to make us think our political leaders are dealing with the problem.

     In 1994 lawmakers in Kansas concerned about children passed a controversial law called the Sexually Violent Predator Act that allowed the state, following a pedophile's release from prison, to involuntarily commit violent sex offenders to mental institutions through a process known as civil commitment.

     The procedure for committing pedophiles and other violent sex offenders under the Kansas law required notifying the local prosecutor handling the case 60 days before the prisoner's release. The prosecutor, upon such notice, had 45 days to file a petition with a state court requesting the involuntary commitment of the offender. Under this law, the prosecutor had the burden of proving that the person in question suffered from a "mental abnormality" that made him or her a "sexually violent predator." If a psychological professional found sufficient evidence to support civil commitment on these grounds, a trial would follow.

     If the defendant was found, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be a sexually violent predator, the trial judge would order his or her commitment to a mental institution. Following the commitment the law required the court to conduct annual reviews to determine if the committed person should remain in custody for another year.

Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 347, (1997)

     In 1995, convicted pedophiles Leroy Hendricks and Tim Quinn were scheduled for prison release. Both men had extensive histories of sexually molesting children. As a result, a Kansas prosecutor filed a petition under the Sexually Violent Predator Act to involuntarily commit Hendricks and Quinn to a state mental institution.

     At the Hendricks/Quinn commitment trial the defendants took the stand and agreed with the state psychiatrist's diagnosis that they were pedophiles who continued to experience uncontrollable sexual desires for children. Based on this testimony the jury found that Hendricks and Quinn qualified as sexually violent predators. The civil trial judge ordered both men committed to the state mental facility.

     Leroy Hendrick's attorneys asserted that the involuntary commitment of a man who had served his time in prison violated the ex post facto and double jeopardy clauses of the United States constitution. The circuit court judges ruling on the appeal did not address those specific issues but found the Kansas law unconstitutional on grounds the "mental abnormality" requirement was too vague to satisfy the constitution's due process clause.

     Attorneys representing the state of Kansas appealed the circuit court's ruling to the United States Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the high court justices reversed the appellate court ruling, finding that the Kansas Violent Sexual Predator Act did not violate the U.S. constitution's ex post facto, double jeopardy or due process clauses.

     Because only a few states have violent sexual predator laws, and prosecutors in states that do don't have the time or will to go through the civil commitment process, only a few prison released pedophiles remain isolated from society. Moreover, even if there were more laws like this and prosecutors who cared enough to go through the process, there are fewer and fewer institutions where these predators can be confined. As a result, Kansas v. Hendricks was a hollow victory that has not solved the problem of what to do about our pedophiles. Children are still at risk.

     If our political leaders where serious about protecting children convicted pedophiles would be subjected to mandatory life sentences.
     

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