Sexual Offenses: When Can You Be Civilly Committed?

July 20, 2021 Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

In Florida, the consequences of crimes involving sexually violent and predatory behavior bear severe consequences. Alongside a criminal sentence and other terms of probation, prosecutors can seek to civilly commit a “sexually violent predator.” This civil commitment comes from Florida Statute Section 394.917’s Florida’s Involuntary Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators Act (the “Jimmy Ryce Act”). This Act provides that the court or jury must determine by clear and convincing evidence whether the individual is a sexually violent predator. The Act defines what constitutes a sexually violent predator in Florida Statutes Section 394.912(10), and provides that a “sexually violent predator” is any individual who:

  1. Has been convicted of a sexually violent offense; and
  2. Suffers 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.

Florida involuntary commits more sexually violent predators than any other state, and the sexually violent predatory commitment program is run by a private company.

The History and Application of the Jimmy Ryce Act

The Jimmy Ryce Act was passed by Florida’s Legislature on May 1, 1998. Once it is established that an offender is a “sexually violent predator,” a petition requesting the inmate’s commitment is filed. After the petition is filed, a judge determines if probable cause exists to believe the inmate is a “sexually violent predator” under the Act’s meaning. If the judge finds in the affirmative, the inmate will be taken into custody and detained in a secure facility until the resolution of the commitment proceedings. The trial for commitment mirrors the criminal trial process. It has its own procedural rules, demanding that the trial occur within thirty days after the probable cause determination, unless the parties show good cause for continuance. The inmate is entitled to representation and can be appointed a public defender for the proceedings provided they show they cannot afford privately retained counsel. The inmate also has the right to a trial by jury. The judge’s or jury’s determination that the inmate is a sexually violent predator must be unanimous. If the decision is by a majority, but not unanimous, the State may request a new trial. Once classified as a sexually violent predator at trial, the inmate is committed to the care of the Department of Children and Family Services, where they must contain the sexually violent predator in a secure facility separated from civilly committed patients not committed under the Jimmy Ryce Act.  

Recent Court of Appeals Opinion Shaw v. State

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal recently dealt with a civil commitment issue in the case Shaw v. State. Shaw, the appellant, challenged his judgment that found him to be a sexually violent predator and ordered his commitment under the Jimmy Ryce Act. In order to have Shaw committed, the State alleged that Shaw had been convicted of a sexually violent offense and had been adjudicated guilty for crimes. These convictions included taking indecent liberties with a child in North Carolina in 1997, breaking and entering in North Carolina in 1994, and false imprisonment in Duval County, Florida in 2009. The State then brought forth experts who testified that they have diagnosed Shaw with mental abnormalities and personality disorders consistent with a likelihood that he would reoffend in a sexually violent manner. These experts based their opinions on the three offenses of the instant case, a child molestation charge from 1994, risk assessment scores, interviews with Shaw, and Shaw’s other criminal history. The jury returned a verdict finding that Shaw was a sexually violent predator. On appeal, the court found that the State proved the predicate of a sexually violent offense through Shaw’s comparable sexual offense from another jurisdiction, North Carolina.

Sex Crime Defense Lawyer in Tallahassee, FL

Sex crimes can bear consequences far greater than the usual prison sentences or terms of probation. If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex offense, it is important to contact a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney early to explore your options. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience representing individual charges with sexual offenses and will fight to protect your rights and afford you an aggressive defense. Call a defense attorney today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your options during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

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