How Florida Law Continues to Punish Sex Offenders After They Complete Their Criminal Sentences
Sex crimes are treated differently than other types of offenses. For instance, you probably know that many people convicted of such crimes are legally required to register as “sex offenders” even after completing their prison sentences. And in some cases, the state may seek the ongoing “civil commitment” of an offender who is judged to be a “sexually violent predator.”
Florida law defines a sexually violent predator as someone who has been convicted of a sex crime and “[s]uffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes the person likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined in a secure facility for long-term control, care, and treatment.”
A state attorney can file a petition to declare any person currently in custody is a sexually violent predator. A judge will then hold a hearing to decide if there is probable cause supporting the state attorney’s position. If the judge agrees that probable cause exists, the offender has the right to request a jury trial to decide if they should be civilly committed following the expiration of their criminal sentence.
When Is a Sexually Violent Predator Entitled to a New Trial on Their Civil Commitment?
Even after a person is found to be a sexually violent predator, they are still entitled to a periodic review of their legal status. Florida law requires an “examination” of a sexually violent predator’s condition at least once each year. A judge must review the results of that examination and hold a “limited hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to believe” that the offender no longer poses a threat to society. As with the original commitment process, if the judge finds there is probable cause, then the offender is entitled to a trial on the merits.
This is a crucial due process safeguard to protect against unnecessary and prolonged civil commitments–which, to emphasize, is a punishment on top of whatever criminal sentence the offender has already served. Yet many judges take shortcuts and deny an offender the right to a trial even when probable cause to support their release exists.
Take this recent decision from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, Drake v. State. This case involves a man who was first declared to be a sexually violent predator in 2013. Each year starting in 2017, the offender presented expert testimony supporting his request for release. These experts basically testified that due to the offender’s age–he is currently in his 70s–and deteriorating medical condition, he was no longer “physically able or mentally likely to commit a sexually violent crime.”
As the Second District explained, in 2017 and 2018, the judges who reviewed this expert testimony concluded that was not enough to establish probable cause, so they did not even bother to conduct a trial. Both times, the Second District reversed and ordered a trial. Despite this, the judge who reviewed essentially the same expert evidence in 2020 again denied the offender’s request for a trial. So for a third time, the Second District had to order the judge to uphold the defendant’s right to a trial.
Contact Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Jose Baez Today
The law is often stacked against persons accused of sex crimes. That is why if you are charged with such an offense it is crucial that you work with an experienced Orlando sex crimes lawyer. Contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a consultation with a member of our criminal defense team.