Sex offenders can stay locked up after sentences end
June 23, 1997
Web posted at: 6:50 p.m. EDT (2250 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday
that states may keep some sexual predators locked up even
after they have served their prison sentences.
In a 5-4 ruling written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court
said that keeping an offender locked up in a mental
institution, even without a formal finding of mental illness,
did not violate constitutional protections of due process or
constitute a double punishment for the same crime.
"The court has recognized that an individual's
constitutionally protected interest in avoiding physical
restraint may be overridden even in the civil context,"
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day
O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy agreed with
Thomas in the decision. Justices Stephen G. Breyer, John Paul
Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.
The ruling was a defeat for Leroy Hendricks, who has been
convicted of child molestation in Kansas five times and has
said that only his death would prevent him from committing
Kansas law allows the state to confine sexually violent
offenders to a mental hospital after they have served a
criminal sentence -- if they are considered likely to engage
in further predatory behavior because of a mental abnormality
or personality disorder. The law falls short of a formal
finding of mental illness.
"Hendricks' diagnosis as a pedophile, which qualifies as a
'mental abnormality' under the act, thus plainly suffices for
due process purposes," Thomas wrote.
The court also, without comment, refused to hear a White
House appeal of a lower court ruling giving Whitewater
Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr access to notes taken
during meetings between first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and
White House attorneys. (full story)
In other action Monday, the court:
Correspondent Anthony Collings contributed to this report.
- Ruled that public school teachers may enter private
church-run schools to offer remedial help to students. The
5-4 ruling reversed the court's own 1985 ruling barring
public school teachers from teaching at any religiously
affiliated school. Rehnquist, Thomas, O'Connor, Scalia and
Kennedy voted with the majority, and Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer
and Stevens dissented.
- Ruled that a 1996 law limiting most state inmates' access
to federal courts does not apply retroactively to those who
had appeals pending at the time the law went into effect.
Justices Souter, Stevens, O'Connor, Ginsburg and Breyer were
the majority in the 5-4 ruling.
- Upheld a lower court ruling that Shreveport, Louisiana,
must get federal approval for judicial voting boundaries
before certifying the election results.
- Ruled unanimously that railroad employees who were exposed
to asbestos, a cancer-causing substance, cannot sue their
employers for emotional distress unless the exposure made
- Ruled that guards at privately run prisons are not
entitled to immunity against lawsuits, as are guards at
state-run prisons. Justices Breyer, Stevens, O'Connor, Souter
and Ginsburg were the majority in the 5-4 ruling.
- Ruled 5-4 that the Coeur d'Alene tribe could not seek
control of a lake and its tributaries by suing Idaho
officials in federal court. The 11th Amendment, the justices
said, protected states from being sued unwillingly in federal
court. The underlying dispute over ownership of Lake Coeur
d'Alene has yet to be decided. Kennedy, Rehnquist, O'Connor,
Scalia and Thomas voted against the American Indian tribe.
- Rejected without comment a lawsuit filed by a group of
U.S. investors challenging last year's restructuring of
insurer Lloyd's of London.
- Rejected without comment the appeal of a man who sued a
restaurant, its chef, a police officer and several town
officials in a dispute over a steak he ordered at the
restaurant. The lower court had tossed the lawsuit, calling
it "goofy." David Schlessinger filed the suit after he got
into an argument with restaurant officials over how the steak
was prepared, then was forced by police to pay for the
uneaten steak and leave.
- Agreed to settle an Alaska case involving 1.8 million
acres of land owned by Alaska natives. A lower court has
ruled the land can be deemed "Indian country," giving tribes
broad regulatory and tax powers.
- Agreed to hear an Oregon case that will clarify what
evidence of danger must exist before police officers with
search warrants can enter a home without knocking.
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