Supreme Court weighs state sex predator law

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Four years after ruling Kansas could lock up a child molester who admitted he couldn't "control the urge," the Supreme Court is deciding whether states must prove a sex offender cannot control his behavior.

The court heard arguments Tuesday in a second case involving Kansas' Sexually Violent Predator Law. At issue is whether due process requires the state to show total inability to control dangerous actions before it can jail an offender as a sexual predator.

Kansas Attorney General Carla Stovall argued Tuesday that prosecutors must show only some lack of control, rather than total lack of control, under the Kansas law.

More than 20 states, including Missouri, have similar laws allowing authorities to confine "sexually violent predators" indefinitely, based on a judge or jury's decision in a civil commitment proceeding.

Kansas lawmakers acted in 1994, after a convicted rapist who was released from prison killed a Pittsburg State University student, Stephanie Schmidt.

Crane's case

The case now before the high court involves Michael Crane, who was convicted in 1994 for offenses that included grabbing a Johnson County, Kan., video store employee, ordering her to perform oral sex and threatening to rape her.

The Kansas Supreme Court later threw out three of the four charges -- aggravated criminal sodomy, attempted rape and kidnapping -- leaving only a conviction for lewd and lascivious behavior.

The state in 1997 refiled the first two charges and, after Crane pleaded guilty to a lesser offense, filed a petition to have him civilly committed as a sexual predator under the state law.

A state judge decided Kansas was not required to prove Crane's inability to control his dangerous behavior and instead told jurors to decide whether he suffered from a personality disorder that made him likely to engage in future acts of sexual violence.

The judge rejected defense efforts to make the jury meet a tougher standard -- that Crane was unable to control his behavior. However, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the trial judge should have granted the jury instruction.

"We believe there should be no distinction between mental abnormality and personality disorder," Stovall argued Tuesday.

Crane's attorney, John Donham, asked the high court to find middle ground.

"Some of these terms are pretty slippery," Donham said. "But I think this court can set a benchmark that can be followed."

Officials in neighboring Missouri, where the law is nearly identical, are watching the case closely because the same issues is now before the Missouri Supreme Court.

The Kansas Supreme Court in 1996 declared the sex predator law unconstitutional, which the U.S. Supreme Court overruled in 1997.

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