Some 700 residents in Minnesota’s sex offender civil commitment system challenged their indefinite commitments. They argued that the program was unconstitutional because only a handful of offenders have ever been released. The Supreme Court will not hear the case.
The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it won’t hear a challenge to Minnesota’s sex offender civil commitment system, which allows people who have been deemed sexually dangerous to be committed indefinitely to a treatment facility, the Associated Press reports. Attorneys for 700 residents committed as “sexually dangerous” or a “sexual psychopathic personality” argued that the program was unconstitutional because only a handful of offenders have ever been released. They argued the “fatal flaw” in the scheme is that Minnesota doesn’t require a regular review of those cases to see if the individuals should still be held. Attorneys for the state said offenders can petition for release using a simple-to-obtain form. They argued that the program is constitutional and necessary to protect citizens from dangerous sexual predators who otherwise would go free.
U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank agreed with the offenders and declared the program unconstitutional in 2015. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Even though the program is more than 20 years old, only eight residents have been granted provisional discharge and are currently living in the community under supervision, and only one person has been fully discharged. The Minnesota case has been closely watched by lawyers, government officials and activists in the 20 states with similar programs. While civilly committed offenders in California, Wisconsin, New Jersey and other states are allowed to re-enter society after completing treatment, Minnesota has the highest per-capita lockup rate, and its courts didn’t order the unconditional release of anyone from its program until last year.