When we think of a criminal jail sentencing, we typically expect that a convicted criminal will be sentenced to a specified amount of time in jail, then be allowed to leave once they have served that time. However, many states are adopting “Civil Commitment” laws aimed specifically at sex offenders. These laws can extend jail time for sex offenders indefinitely, and quickly trap individuals in a legal nightmare that is nearly impossible to get out of.
How does a sex offender become placed under Civil Commitment?
When authorities feel that there is a danger of recidivism, they may place a sex offender under Civil Commitment to extend prison time, even after the original sentence is served. This can quickly become complicated, especially if an individual has waived their right to appeal as part of a plea bargain.
Who determines whether someone is eligible for Civil Commitment?
A state employed psychologist or “sex expert” usually recommends an individual for civil commitment. It is important to note that this decision may be made without filing any additional charges, at any time during a sentence.
What happens when someone is under Civil Commitment?
The justice system may essentially extend a prison sentence indefinitely, even if the official sentence has already been served. Once placed under civil commitment, a registered sex offender is stuck in prison until a state psychologist feels that there is no threat of recidivism. However, as one Virginia resident discovered, simply requesting to have a lawyer present during an interview can be considered “unwilling to participate.” To complicate matters further, a judge is not required (and may refuse) to use testimony from any other expert or psychologist other than the state employed psychologist.
What rights are denied under Civil Commitment?
Individuals under Civil Commitment are denied several rights that are normally given to other defendants. Convicted sex offenders under Civil Commitment are denied the right to an attorney in some situations, the right to a speedy trial, and even the right to include additional testimonies during trial.
While Civil Commitment may help keep dangerous sexual predators off the streets, it denies basic rights that are given to other convicted criminals. It’s also important to remember that petty crimes like public urination and streaking can result in sex offense charges. Once convicted of being a sex offender, there is often very little recourse, which makes it that much more important to have the right attorney from the beginning.
Have you or someone you know been affected by Civil Commitment laws? Do you feel these laws are a violation of constitutional rights? Share your thoughts!