ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Attorneys for a man who was committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program for crimes he committed when he was a child say he should be immediately released, and they asked a federal judge on Tuesday to declare his confinement unconstitutional.
But attorneys for the state argued the man would be better served if he goes to a less-restrictive environment and prepares for a gradual reintegration into society, and they asked the federal court to let a state process to transfer him go forward.
Tuesday's closing arguments wrapped up a two-day hearing to determine whether the man — as well as a woman who is the only civilly committed female sex offender in Minnesota — are being properly held at the state's treatment program for those who have been committed as sexually dangerous or sexual psychopaths.
U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank said he and U.S. Magistrate Jeffrey Keyes will issue a decision within 30 days. Frank also said he intends to discuss whether the trial in the overall class-action lawsuit can be accelerated, possibly occurring as soon as this fall.
The lawsuit, filed in 2011 by residents of MSOP, alleges the program is unconstitutional because it keeps offenders locked up indefinitely. Nearly 700 offenders have been civilly committed to high-security facilities in Moose Lake or St. Peter after their prison terms were completed. Only one patient has been successfully released, with provisions, since 1994.
As part of the litigation, court-appointed experts are evaluating whether patients are receiving appropriate treatment. The experts began their reviews by focusing on clients in units that serve young adults, the elderly, and those with severe mental illness or cognitive limitations.
Experts testified that the man, identified in court documents as E.T., should never have been placed in the program and should be immediately released without conditions because he doesn't need sex offender treatment and there is little evidence he is a risk.
Nancy Johnston, the executive director of MSOP, testified Tuesday that she agrees E.T. carries a low risk of sexual reoffending, but she said it's in his best interest and in the interest of public safety to transition him to a less restrictive environment to prepare him for reintegration into society.
A special review board has already recommended his immediate transfer to that less restrictive environment. Under state law, a Supreme Court Appeals Panel will make the final decision.
Johnston said the process for E.T., whom the AP is not identifying because he has no adult convictions, is being expedited. She estimated the state could petition for his provisional discharge into the community by the end of this year; but she also said he could be pulled back into the secure facility if there are problems.
Both sides agree the only way the federal judges could order E.T.'s release is through a habeas corpus petition, which gives federal courts power to release someone from an unlawful detention after all state remedies are exhausted. A habeas corpus petition could also be pursued on the state level.
But in the context of this class-action lawsuit, Dan Gustafson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the federal judges have the power to declare that E.T.'s confinement is unconstitutional. That declaration, he said, could lead the state to petition for his full discharge.
Nathan Brennaman, an attorney for the state, said instead of issuing a declaration, the judges have authority to grant injunctive relief and could force the state to make changes that would affect the entire class of plaintiffs.
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