State Supreme Court sets higher standard for indefinite lockup of sex offenders

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A new ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court says only sex offenders who are "highly likely" to reoffend can be indefinitely locked in the state's treatment program.

The Associated Press reports the justices reversed a lower court's ruling in the case of a Sibley County man, saying the evidence presented at his trial was not enough to prove he meets the "highly likely" standard.

As the Star Tribune reports, the case of Cedrick Ince was sent back to the lower court to consider whether he does qualify for indefinite confinement under the newly-clarified standard. The District Court will also determine whether there's a less restrictive treatment program available.

MPR News notes that an expert witness in Ince's original trial used a statistical model to put the chances of his reoffending at 60 percent.

In the Supreme Court's opinion Justice G. Barry Anderson writes that predicting dangerousness cannot be done purely with statistics. Anderson also writes that being dangerous alone does not justify civil commitment – but in combination with a mental illness or personality disorder it could.

Justice Alan Page agreed with the Court's ruling but wrote a separate opinion that is more pointedly critical of the Legislature. Page writes that those arguing for a less restrictive alternative to indefinite confinement at a secure facility face an "impossible task" because Minnesota provides no such alternative.

Under existing law, sex offenders who have served their criminal sentences but are still deemed dangerous can be indefinitely committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. Nearly 700 offenders are in the program's locked facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter.

The Star Tribune reports that since the program started in 1993 no one has been unconditionally released from it and only two offenders have been provisionally discharged.

A federal lawsuit against the state claims the program is unconstitutional. A judge in February declined to dismiss that suit, writing that Minnesota's system is "clearly broken."

But changes during the current legislative session appear unlikely, as lawmakers are unable to agree on whether or how to reform the state's handling of sex offenders.

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