Supreme Court sets a condition for keeping sex offenders confined after serving their time

Tuesday, January 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that states may keep violent sexual offenders locked up beyond their prison terms only if they prove that the offenders lack some self control.

Justices, in a partial victory for Kansas, threw out a ruling in favor of a convicted sex predator because a jury did not consider whether he could stop himself from committing a new crime if allowed to go free.

The high court said states have to address an inmate's lack of control. Justices did not say specifically how that should be done.

``It is irresponsible to leave the law in such a state of utter indeterminacy,'' Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote in a dissent.

More than 1,200 sex offenders are confined in 19 states with laws resembling the 1994 Kansas statute at issue in this case. It was unclear how the case may affect them.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the 7-2 court, said states do not have to show that inmates have no control at all.

``It is enough to say that there must be proof of serious difficulty in controlling behavior,'' he wrote.

The Kansas Supreme Court had ordered a new trial for Michael T. Crane and said a jury should have determined if he was unable to control his behavior. Justices sent Crane's case back to that court for reconsideration.

Crane was convicted of sexually assaulting a video store clerk and exposing himself to a tanning salon attendant in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan. When he was about to be paroled, a jury determined that he should be committed to a state hospital.

Justices had upheld the Kansas sex predator law in 1997. The law allows the indefinite confinement of violent sex offenders beyond their prison terms if they suffer from mental abnormalities or personality disorders making them likely to commit similar crimes in the future.

In 1997, justices did not consider the offender's ability to control his behavior.

Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall had argued last fall that the Kansas Supreme Court's interpretation was too broad, because almost all sexual offenders possess at least some control over their actions.

Crane's attorney had also said that standard was too broad and asked the justices to find some middle ground.

Scalia said the new ruling guts the court's 1997 decision and gives judges in such cases no guidance.

``I suspect that the reasons the court avoids any elaboration is that elaboration which passes the laugh test is impossible,'' Scalia wrote.

The states with laws like the Kansas statute are Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin, the Supreme Court was told.

The case is Kansas v. Crane, 00-957.