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Federal Appeals Court Declares Minnesota's Sex Offender Program Constitutional

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled to reverse a lower court decision that declared Minnesota’s sex offender program unconstitutional for keeping certain sex offenders confined after they complete their prison sentences. In the ruling, the three-judge panel from the Eighth Circuit United States Court of Appeals sided with the state after it appealed the lower court’s decision over a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 700 offenders. In its opinion, the panel stated that the state’s sex offender civil commitment law is critical to protecting public safety.

In the lawsuit, offenders argued that the Minnesota Sex Offender Program violates inmates’ rights by using civil commitment laws to essentially impose life sentences. Over the 20+ years the program has been in use, only a few individuals have won provisional release. In 2015, a U.S. District Judge declared the program unconstitutional and called for new changes that would create an easier path for offenders to be released.

With the most recent decision, substantial reform will not be implemented unless attorneys for the 700+ inmates indefinitely confined under the program are successful in their plans to file further appeals. This may include a request for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to review the panel’s latest ruling, or taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Minnesota is one of 20 states in the country that enforces civil commitment for sexual offenders. Under the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, state courts are able to keep convicted individuals confined after their sentences in special facilities if they are deemed to be an ongoing threat to public safety.

The state operates two facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter to house more than 700 individuals under the civil commitment program and provide treatment and mental health counseling. The Minnesota Department of Human Services, which operates the state’s sex offender program, reports that roughly four percent of sex offenders in the state are civilly committed. While civilly committed offenders in other states are often able to re-enter society after completing treatment, Minnesota maintains the highest lockup rate per capita.

Opponents of the civil commitment program believe the law is too strict, and that it can keep sex offenders in custody for life, even when they were not sentenced to life terms. They also argue that the program often confines elderly individuals who pose no threat to public safety, as well as numerous individuals who were convicted of sex crimes as juveniles. This is despite evidence from experts and organizations like the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, which states that roughly 97 – 98 percent of juveniles convicted for a sexual offense will not reoffend sexually. Civil commitment of a sex offender is also approximately three times as expensive as housing an individual in a state prison.

Although there are efforts being made across the nation that call on states to rework civil commitment laws used by sex offender programs, the latest decision in Minnesota speaks volumes about the harsh penalties and social stigmas sex offenders face. Because individuals accused of sex crimes are subject to such severe penalties, and potentially indefinite confinement, working with proven attorneys is crucial to protecting one’s freedom and future.

Our criminal defense lawyers at Caplan & Tamburino Law Firm, P.A. have extensive experience representing individuals charged with all types of sex crimes. If you or someone you know is currently under investigation or has been charged with a sex offense anywhere in Minnesota, our team is available to review your case and discuss how we may be able to help protect your rights and future. Consultations are free and confidential.


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