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Civil Commitment: A Violation of Due Process Rights?

On October 1, 2014, a significant number of state bills signed by Governor Rick Scott went into effect. One of the packages of bills that recently went into effect will have a significant impact on sexual offenders residing within the state and future offenders.

Civil Commitment: October 2014 Amendment

The first bill, Senate Bill 522, creates a notification system by which if a previously convicted sex offender is arrested and convicted of any type of misdemeanor or felony, the Florida Department of Children and Families will be notified and the offender may be civilly committed. Civil Commitment is a type of involuntary confinement whereby an offender, who may have already served his/her court-mandated sentence, but who is found (usually by a judge or jury) to still be a danger to society. The offender who is found to still be a danger to society may be civilly committed for a specific time period or in a particular facility where they may be rehabilitated for eventual release, or kept indefinitely. Civil commitment is highly controversial as those who are found to be dangers to society may be legally confined for an indefinite amount of a time without committing a crime. In Florida, for example, the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia houses about 650 men who have been deemed to be a present danger to children in society.

Civil Commitment in Florida

Florida’s Civil Commitment laws have been on the books since 1960 and are similar to the civil confinement of those who have committed crimes who have mental disabilities. However, civil commitment for sex offenders usually is recommended after the offender has completed his sentence. Once an offender has satisfied his criminal sentence, he must be evaluated by at least two psychologists or experts who may be able to diagnose any other mental deficiency or disorder that may predispose the offender to commit another sex offense. The evaluations are about predicting the future, and determining the likelihood that he will commit another offense.

Expert Witnesses in Civil Commitment Hearings: Highly Profitable Venture

Because these offenses are highly predictive and not primarily based on past criminal behavior, expert witnesses generally determine the outcome for many of these offenders. The state has paid almost $26 million in the last 14 years, with at least half of that money being paid out to only 10 experts. Though Florida has created a cap of $5000 for each sex offender trial, the judge may authorize the court to pay more money, which it almost always does.

Due process rights require that defendants’ fundamental rights are not to be limited unless the defendant is given the opportunity to be heard. Though these offenders are given a hearing and an opportunity to be evaluated by experts, this does not always mean that justice is on their side.

Is Civil Commitment the Right Path for Halting Sex Crimes?

Many, including writer Margo Kaplan, who wrote a piece in the New York Times, believes that civil commitment is extremely ineffectual at ending this type of crime because pedophilia is a mental illness and not a chosen lifestyle. Pedophilia is currently not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and not found to a qualified mental disability. Because of that, men suffering from pedophilia are placed in civil commitment rather than treated for the underlying problem. Though one can never be cured of pedophilia, with enough treatment and medication, the recidivism rate would most likely decline.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

Civil commitment is currently the most popular solution for dealing with sex offenders leaving prison. However, penalizing someone for the possibility of future harms goes against the fundamental rights held within our Constitution. An experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik will ensure that your fundamental rights are not being violated by advocating zealously on your behalf. Please contact the law offices of Kevin J. Kulik for further information about your fundamental rights and for a free and confidential consultation.

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