Kansas v. Hendricks
The Court's decision granted wide latitude to the states to fashion measures for protecting society from repeated crimes by violent sexual predators.
In the early 1990s, a number of states enacted tough laws to deal with the rising problem of violent sexual crimes, particularly those against children. States imposed harsher sentences on those convicted of violent sexual crimes and required sexual offenders to register their address with the police following their release from prison. In 1994, Kansas took an innovative approach by enacting the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act. This law allowed the state to confine sexual offenders that suffered from a "mental abnormality" to a mental institution through a process known as civil commitment. Civil commitment is a process apart from the criminal justice process in which a person can be committed involuntarily to a mental facility. Civil commitment generally is used only for people who are a danger to themselves or to others.
The Kansas law provided a detailed procedure for committing violent sexual offenders. First, the prison was required to notify the prosecuting attorney who handled the case 60 days before the sexual offender was to be released from prison. The prosecutor then had 45 days in which to file a petition in the state court asking that the person be involuntarily committed. If such a petition was filed, the state court was then required to determine whether there was sufficient evidence that the person was a "sexually violent predator." Under the law, "sexually violent predator" was defined as a person suffering from a mental abnormality which makes the person likely to commit sexually violent acts and who is convicted of or charged with a sexually violent offense. If the court determined that there was sufficient evidence, the person was evaluated by a psychological professional. After the evaluation, a trial was held, and if the person was found to be a sexually violent predator beyond a reasonable doubt, he was committed to a mental facility for care and treatment. Finally, after a person's commitment, the trial court was required to conduct an annual review to determine whether the person should remain committed. Also, the person could petition the court for release at any time.
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