What the Jimmy Ryce Act Means for Those Convicted of Sex Crimes

September 17, 2021 Sex Crimes

  • This blog post is intended purely for informational purposes, the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm does not currently assist in Jimmy Ryce hearings*

What is the Jimmy Ryce Act?

The Jimmy Ryce Act centers around the involuntary civil commitment of sexually violent offenders. The act is codified in Sections 394.910-394.932 of the Florida Statutes. The legislature recognized that the prognosis for rehabilitating sexually violent offenders in a prison setting is poor. They also recognized that the involuntary commitment procedures under the Baker Act for the treatment and care of mentally ill offenders is inadequate in addressing the risk that sexually violent offenders pose to society. As a result, the Jimmy Ryce Act was born out of the legislature’s necessity to create a civil procedure for long-term care and treatment of sexually violent predators. However, it is imperative to recognize the history that led to the legislature recognizing these issues.


On September 11, 1995, nine-year-old Jimmy Ryce was abducted after getting off his school bus. Jimmy was kidnapped, raped, murdered, and dismembered by Juan Carlos Chavez, who was convicted on his murder on September 12, 1998. As they grieved, Jimmy’s parents authored and lobbied for the Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators Treatment and Care Act (Jimmy Ryce Act), which was signed into law on May 19, 1998, and went into effect on January 1, 1999.  

What Does it Say?

The Act deems certain sex offenders as “sexually violent predators” and seeks to have those offenders involuntarily and indefinitely committed to a treatment facility after they serve their criminal sentence in jail. The law applies only to individuals who have been convicted of a sexually violent offense. Under Section 394.912 of the Florida Statutes, a “sexually violent predator” applies to any person 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.

Furthermore, the statute defines “sexually violent offense” as:

  1. Murder of a human being while engaged in sexual battery in violation of s.04(1)(a)2;
  2. Kidnapping of a child under the age of 13 and, in the course of that offense, committing:
  3. Sexual battery; or
  4. A lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault or act upon or in the presence of the child;
  5. Committing the offense of false imprisonment upon a child under the age of 13 and, in the course of that offense, committing:
  6. Sexual battery; or
  7. A lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault or act upon or in the presence of the child;
  8. Sexual battery in violation of s.011;
  9. Lewd, lascivious, or indecent assault or act upon or in presence of the child in violation of s.04or s. 847.0135(5);
  10. An attempt, criminal solicitation, or conspiracy, in violation of s.04, of a sexually violent offense;
  11. Any conviction for a felony offense in effect at any time before October 1, 1998, which is comparable to a sexually violent offense under paragraphs (a)-(f) or any federal conviction or conviction in another state for a felony offense that in this state would be a sexually violent offense; or
  12. Any criminal act that, either at the time of sentencing for the offense or subsequently during civil commitment proceedings under this part, has been determined beyond a reasonable doubt to have been sexually motivated.

Lastly, “convicted of a sexually violent offense” means a person has been:

  1. Adjudicated guilty of a sexually violent offense after a trial, guilty plea, or plea of nolo contendere;
  2. Adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity of a sexually violent offense; or
  3. Adjudicated delinquent of a sexually violent offense after a trial, guilty plea, or plea of nolo contendere.


The Act directs the Secretary of Children and Family Services to form a multidisciplinary team in order to assess whether an individual is a sexually violent predatory. This team must be comprised of at least two psychiatrists or psychologists, or one licensed psychiatrist and one licensed psychologist. The agency controlling the inmate convicted of the sexually violent crime must notify the multidisciplinary team and the state attorney one hundred and eighty days before their release. The multidisciplinary team then must assess and evaluate the person’s institutional history and treatment record, if any, the person’s criminal background and any other factor that is relevant to the determination of whether such person is a sexually violent predator. If they determine the inmate is a sexually violent predator, the state attorney will file a petition requesting the inmate’s commitment into a treatment facility. If a judge determines probable cause exists that the inmate is a sexually violent predator as defined in the Act, the inmate must be taken into custody and held until resolution of the commitment proceeding.

            The state attorney can then petition for a probable cause hearing, and if granted, “the respondent has the right to introduce evidence, be represented by counsel, cross-examine witnesses, and view and copy all reports and petitions in the file. The respondent, however, is not entitled to petition the court for an adversarial hearing; only the state attorney has this right.” This trial operates in a similar manner as a criminal proceeding, and the respondent is entitled to counsel and if indigent, will be provided counsel. The respondent has a right to demand trial by jury, and the court or jury must prove the respondent is a sexually violent offender by clear and convincing evidence. If the respondent is found to be a sexually violent predator, they will be “committed to the care of the Department of Children and Family Services [who] must maintain sexually violent predators in a secure facility segregated from civilly committed patients who were not committed under the Jimmy Ryce Act.” The inmate must be examined at least once a year to determine if their condition keeping them in the facility has changed, and a probable cause hearing must be conducted. This hearing is to decide if it is safe to let the inmate back into society. If probable cause that the inmate will not engage in acts of sexual violence if discharged is found, there will be a trial. If the State can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the inmate will engage in such sexual violence if released, then the inmate will remain committed. The inmate may petition the court for release at any time, however, if they have previously filed one in the past and were unsuccessful, the court may deny the petition given it does not state facts that establish the need for a probable cause hearing.

Concerns Regarding the Act

Courts and individuals alike have opposed the Jimmy Ryce Act for a multitude of reasons. First, it raises the constitutional concern of Double Jeopardy since the offender is ultimately being prosecuted twice for the same offense. This concern was addressed in  Kansas v. Hendricks , and the Supreme Court held that the Kansas law providing for the involuntary civil commitment of individuals whose mental abnormality makes them likely to commit acts of sexual violence did not create a criminal proceeding, and therefore, are not subject to the Double Jeopardy Clause. The Jimmy Ryce Act was modeled after this constitutional Kansas law; however, critics argue that in its application, it does nothing but extend the punishment of a certain group of criminals and keep them incarcerated indefinitely despite already completing their sentence. If you would like to read about Shaw v. State, a recent Court of Appeals case regarding the issue of civil commitment and what constitutes a sexually violent predator, click here.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

Theoretically, the Jimmy Ryce Act allows for an individual who completed their criminal sentence to be held in a facility involuntarily for the rest of their life.  For this reason, it is imperative that those charged or convicted of sex crimes seek the advice of a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney. If you or a loved one has been charged or convicted of a sex crime, you should consult with a seasoned Tallahassee criminal defense attorney to explore your legal options. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending against a wide array of criminal charges and will fight for justice on your behalf. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

This article was written by Sarah Kamide

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