Indefinite Lockup (No, Not Gitmo)

The Miami Herald | 11/11/2003 | State's sex predator law goes too far, some argue

The issue is the so-called Jimmy Ryce Act, §§ 394.910-394.931, Fla. Stat.

The statute provides for indefinite confinement of sexual offenders who are currently incarcerated, to continue until they are pronounced ‘cured’ which in the very large majority of cases so far means ‘never’. The statute doesn’t actually say that they must be incarcerated for the sex crime — and the plaintiff in this case committed a rape 20 years ago, was released in 1991, but has been re-arrested since for various crimes of violence.

The Florida Supreme Court has said the Ryce Act is basically constitutional but it has yet to rule on whether the statute can be applied to inmates who committed a sexual offense in the past, but are currently incarcerated for a non-sexual offense.

The 5-year-old law is so sweeping that prosecutors have been using it indefinitely detain people who have served out their sentences for non-sexual crimes. These people, like Tabor, 46, have committed a rape or molestation decades ago, been released, and then re-arrested for some other crime not sexual in nature.

At Monday's hearing in front of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, judges pointed out that the current interpretation of the law would allow prosecutors to label someone a sexual predator after he was imprisoned for a DUI offense, even if his sex crime dates from the 1980s.

''Is there anything rational about that?'' Judge Larry Klein asked during the hearing. How different is that than rounding up decades-old sex-crime convicts who are just ''out and about?'' he continued.

Florida keeps 429 people in a former prison in Arcadia that serves as a treatment center for sexually violent predators.

Many have been locked up since 1999, since the state first opened such a facility.

The state has yet to come up with a clear method of graduating them from treatment and into society. As a result, few have been released.

About 13 other states have similar laws and courts have so far agreed they meet constitutional requirements. Florida's Department of Children & Families, which oversees the state's program, estimates that about 10 percent of the men held at Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia have been detained following prison sentences for non-sexual crimes. Like Tabor, they had long ago served sentences for sex crimes.

If appeals judges decide in Tabor's favor, it would directly affect those cases and many future sexual predator cases.

Of course, the plaintiff in this case is not exactly sympathetic:

Tabor served all his prison time for a rape 20 years ago in a Fort Lauderdale hotel. He was released from prison in 1991 and hasn't been accused of another sexual offense since. He was later arrested for beating up a dog, then, later a cop, among other crimes.

Nevertheless, should he subjected to this:

A psychologists said he had an anti-social personality, but not a sexually deviant personality. Nonetheless, a jury unanimously agreed he was a sexual predator who might commit a future crime if released. The standard for locking someone up as a sexual predator is lower than the ''reasonable doubt'' standard used in criminal cases.

At Tabor's civil commitment trial, jurors also learned about a 1976 case in which Tabor beat a man in Miami with a steel rod shortly before someone else killed the man. They also heard information about a 1979 sorority rape charge against Tabor that was never prosecuted.

Although this verdict has a ring of rough justice to it — Tabor doesn't sound like my ideal sort of neighbor! — the trouble is, the statute is about claims of being a 'sexual predator' not about predictions of future dangerousness generally. Those predictions are hard to make in a scientific fashion, and the Supreme Court hasn't said, and isn't that likely to say, that the fear of mere ordinary dangerousness without a finding of insanity is enough to lock people up after their jail terms have expired. And indeed, that rule would be pretty dangerous.

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