Civil commitment of sexual assault up for constitutional review

Civil commitment of sexual assault up for constitutional review

| Aug 15, 2012 | Sex Crimes |

Many people in Montgomery County are likely to believe that when someone has finished a criminal sentence that they should be free to go. It is both unconstitutional and wrong to hold someone for an indefinite period of time after they have served his or her sentence. In some states, there are concerns that even after an individual who has been convicted of and served time for a sex offense, he or she could be held in a civil commitment program until he or she is determined not to be a threat. While Maryland doesn’t have any such program, there are many people who think the state should adopt one.

One state’s civil commitment program is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit that has just been consolidated into a class action lawsuit. There are more than 600 people who are currently being detained by the state and will be represented by this lawsuit. The more than 60 individuals who have filed suit against the state argue that they are being indefinitely detained and believe the program to be unconstitutional.

In 2003, the then-governor further restricted the conditions on which someone could be released from the program, meaning that the number of people has risen dramatically. There are currently 605 people in the sex offender program and, while they are called “patients” it is very obvious that they are not allowed to leave.

The conditions of the state’s civil commitment program are so severe that when the courts requested the extradition of a British resident, the high courts denied the request. They said that the program was a violation of international human rights and just the threat that the individual could end up enrolled as a patient was enough to reject the extradition request.

As discussions continue about whether Maryland should adopt a similar program, it is important to remember that anyone accused of a sex crime could end up as a “patient” for the rest of his or her life.

Source: Star Tribune, “Minnesota sex-offender lawsuit takes step forward,” Mary Lynn Smith and Dave Hage, July 25, 2012

Though Maryland doesn’t have a civil commitment program for sexual offenders, there are some who are pushing for it. If you want to learn more about our work with people accused of sexual assault, however, visit our website.