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US Supreme Court Won't Hear Minnesota Sex Offender Case

The U.S. Supreme Court won't hear a case involving the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which has a facility in Moose Lake. The U.S. Supreme Court won't hear a case involving the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which has a facility in Moose Lake. |  Photo: WDIO-TV file

Compiled from Associated Press reports
October 02, 2017 02:15 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court won't hear a challenge to Minnesota's sex offender civil commitment system, which allows people deemed sexually dangerous to be committed to a treatment facility for an indefinite period of time.

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The court's order, which declines to hear the case, came Monday.

According to the sex offenders who brought the lawsuit, more than 700 people are now committed in the state as "sexually dangerous" or a "sexual psychopathic personality." 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.

Minnesota told the court that offenders can petition for release using a simple-to-obtain form.

Gov. Mark Dayton says that while the program has been deemed constitutional, it doesn't mean that ongoing reforms will be abandoned. The Democratic governor says the ruling will allow the state to continue reforms rather than operate under a federal directive.

Last session, Dayton proposed $18.4 million in new funding to improve facilities and staffing. He says he is urging lawmakers to join him in funding continued reforms.

Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper says she expects ongoing reforms to the program to continue.  Piper also says she expects to still seek money for less restrictive housing for offenders.

When asked whether it will be a harder sell to get lawmakers to pay for more housing options for offenders now that the court won't be enforcing changes, Piper said: "I expect them to do their job."

Dan Gustafson, an attorney for the residents, says he's disappointed that the high court declined to review the case.  Gustafson had argued that the program was unconstitutional because it amounts to a life sentence and only a handful of people have ever been released in the program's more than 20-year history.

Gustafson says Monday's order is a setback to the "administration of justice." He says the ruling means the federal courts are keeping their hands off state decisions to commit sex offenders, and he says that should concern everyone who believes that the federal court system should guard the constitutional rights of people who are oppressed by the state.

He says Minnesota's political leaders could fix the problem, but it's unlikely they will unless they are required to by the court.

Eric Janus, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul who has testified as an expert against the program, says he's "very disappointed" by Monday's announcement from the court, and the people of Minnesota should be too.

Janus says the biggest problem of the Minnesota program is the "systemic thwarting" of the principle that people should be released when they can be safely managed in a community.

He says the state has made some small progress under legal pressure to change the program, but that pressure is gone now.


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Compiled from Associated Press reports

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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