The New York Times reported in October 2015 that the State of Minnesota civilly commits more sex offenders per capita than any other state in the nation. The Times said the state has committed more than 700 sex offenders over the past two decades and not one of them has been discharged from their commitment. A small number of offenders, however, have been “provisionally discharged” allowing them to live outside state facilities under strict community supervision.
The Minnesota civil commitment program, as with similar programs in other states, including Texas, is seriously flawed. Reforms have been made, as has been the case in Texas, to state civil commitment programs whose very concept is draconian at best.
Minnesota, for example, has experienced a protracted debate over how convicted sex offenders should be treated. Its civil commitment program for sex offenders was initially declared unconstitutional only to have that ruling overturned. The case is now heading back to a federal district court.
Is Minnesota’s Sex Offender Program Constitutional or Not?
In 2015, sex offenders who were subject to penalties they deemed harsh and unnecessary were awarded a victory. A U.S. District Court declared the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) unconstitutional.
Because it allowed offenders to be placed behind bars indefinitely, failed to provide them with a meaningful system for release, and failed to conduct risk assessments that would keep the program constitutionally viable. The court ruling offered hope for reforms and changes to the state’s sex offender treatment programs—the most significant of which would provide a rational process for release offenders who no longer posed a serious threat to the community.
This hope didn’t last for long.
A three-judge panel recently overturned the district court decision, finding that the MSOP did not violate fundamental liberties of civilly committed sex offenders. This recent ruling cast a legal pall over whether any meaningful reforms can be put in place, especially to change the state’s practice of keeping sex offenders indefinitely confined under state supervision after they have completed service of their criminal sentences.
Attorneys and sex offenders in Minnesota are not letting the overturned ruling stop them from fighting for individuals who have been confined years beyond the point in which they posed a threat to the community. They are continuing to wage their constitutional battles in the federal court system.
Know Your State’s Sex Offender Laws
Depending on the state where you live, Minnesota’s sex offender requirements could seem especially harsh or pretty loose. Each state has different laws regarding what sex offenders can and cannot do, where they can live, the process for registering, and so on. In some states, sex offenders are banned from using social media sites. Other states have fairly loose restrictions on where sex offenders can live or work.
Policies and penalties also differ depending on whether you were charged with state or federal sex crimes. For example, federal penalties for failing to register include up to 10 years in prison. In Texas, failure to register is only an offense that warrants up to 10 years in prison if the offender has to register for their entire life. For offenders who must register for 10 years, failing to register may only warrant up to two years in prison. S
These laws are always being challenged and updated. Recently, we wrote about a lawsuit related to sex offender laws in our state. Federal judges are also scheduled to hear a case on restricting offenders from social media use in North Carolina. The best way to avoid running afoul of the laws is to know what they are.
If, however, you do find yourself facing sex crimes charges, understand that the penalties that accompany conviction can be incredibly severe even beyond jail time and fines. Sex offenders may have limits on their ability to travel, live freely, and keep their personal information private. Protect your rights and your future by contacting a federal sex crimes lawyer today to start building a serious defense strategy.