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Indefinite detention held constitutional by federal court

Many states have some version of a “civil” detention law. But few states are as expansive or restrictive as Minnesota’s. Earlier this month, a federal appeals courts upheld Minnesota’s restrictive detention law. The appeals court reversed the lower court decision, finding that detaining people beyond the length of their sentence serve a legitimate interest in protecting the public from dangerous people. This post will go over the impacts of this case and the implications it could have all over the country, including Maryland.

Civil detention, unlike criminal detention, is done to protect a person either from themselves or from the harm they might inflict on the public. The most common civil detention law is the temporary psychiatric hold, it is popularized in the media as either a one, two, or three-day hold. But the hallmark of all those programs is that they are short and eventually end.

The Minnesota program is long-term civil detention for sex offenders. Civil detention programs must, at their heart, focus on treating the detained person to help them reintegrate into society. Ostensibly, the Minnesota program does provide therapy and other methods to help its detainees eventually release. But the release rate is extremely low, in 20 years, only 14 people have been released. Some people have spent years in the program.

Detractors argue that it is unconstitutional because it is imprisoning people without trial. But the government is allowed to detain people if there is a strong public interest. Here, the Court determined that detaining sex offenders are an in the public’s interest. After this ruling, it is likely that many states will model their detention laws after Minnesota, so more of these long-term programs could permeate throughout the US.

These programs are supposed to treat the individual and release them once they are “cured,” however no one knows how to cure a person of pedophilia or other urges. The science is still out. The practical effect is that people are detained for years, and in some cases, decades.

If you are facing a sex crime charge, you should contact a defense attorney. As you can see, there are many additional caveats attached to sex crimes, including unlimited detention. A lawyer can ensure that your rights are respected.

Source: Star Tribune, “Appellate court affirms constitutionality of Minnesota's sex-offender program,” Chris Serres, January 4, 2016

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