Supreme Court Upholds Kansas "Sexual Predator" Law

June 23, 1997 12:00 am

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Monday, June 23, 1997

WASHINGTON — Weighing in on a national debate over sexual offenders, the United States Supreme Court today upheld a Kansas law designed to keep sexual offenders confined in a mental hospital after being released from prison.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for a 5 to 4 Court, overturned a 1995 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court and ruled that the law does not violate a range of constitutional protections including due process, double jeopardy, and the ex post facto clause.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said that while society should be protected from sexual predators, the Supreme Court has sanctioned a law that sacrifices the most basic fundamental freedoms to that cause.

“This case is not about whether our children should be protected from sexual offenders, but how to accomplish that goal without trampling on basic civil liberties of every citizen,” said Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU’s national legal director.

“The states can and should enforce long prison terms for repeat sexual offenders,” Shapiro added. But we should not allow politicians to use mental hospitals as a place to lock up individuals who are regarded as dangerous. The result today distorts both psychiatry and laws.”

The case involves a 1994 law enacted in Kansas known as the Sexually Violent Predator Act that permits the state to keep sexual offenders who are not mentally ill confined in a mental institution after they complete a criminal sentence.

The law had been invoked against Leroy Hendricks, a 62-year-old sexual offender who was about to be released from a 10-year prison sentence for taking indecent liberties with children. Although Hendricks was not considered mentally ill, the state moved to have him committed under the act.

The impact of today’s decision will likely be felt nationwide, as states continue to grapple with intense public concern about sexual offenders. Similar laws have been enacted in at least five states, including Arizona, California, Minnesota, Washington and Wisconsin. The case is Kansas v. Hendricks, No. 95-1649.

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