Monday, January 14, 2013

The Supreme Court Makes It Harder to Detain Sexual Predators: Kansas v. Crane (2002)

What happens when a person with mental
illness cannot control his/her impulses?

In recent weeks, there has been a considerable amount of talk about how to improve the mental healthcare system so that people with mental illness who are dangerous get the treatment they need. Remember, most individuals with mental illness are no more dangerous than anyone else. But, when dangerousness is combined with mental illness, the threat of violence increases dramatically.

Colorado is toying around with the idea of lowering the standard for having someone involuntarily committed to inpatient treatment if he/she is mentally ill and potentially dangerous. But, the US Supreme Court may have something to say about that. Take, for example, the case of Kansas v. Crane (2002).

In 1993, Michael Crane was arrested for attacking a video store clerk in Leawood, Kansas, an exurb of Kansas City. In 1994, he was convicted of kidnapping, attempted rape, and attempted sodomy. The court sentenced him to 35 years to life in the state penitentiary.

In 1996, his conviction was overturned on procedural grounds, and Mr. Crane pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated sexual battery in 1997. The court sentenced him to three to ten years in prison.

Around 2000, Mr. Crane was rapidly approaching his release date, and the state did not know what to do. Kansas sought to keep him incarcerated indefinitely, claiming he was a sexually violent predator under the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act. The district court hearing the case agreed with the state and ordered Mr. Crane be civilly committed as a sexually violent predator. Mr. Crane's defense team appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court, who overturned the district court's ruling. They argued the Sexually Violent Predator Act was unconstitutional when applied to someone who merely has a mental illness, rather than "a volitional impairment." The Kansas Supreme Court ruled it must be proven a person is both 1. likely to "engage in repeat acts of sexual violence" and 2. has "an inability to control violent behavior."

Kansas brought the case to the US Supreme Court, who agreed to hear arguments in 2001. In 2002, the Court issued its ruling: Kansas needed to prove Mr. Crane had "a serious difficulty" in controlling his behavior in order to civilly commit him as a sexual predator. The Court was very clear that Kansas "did not need to prove total or complete lack of [behavioral] control." As such, the Court remanded the case back to the Kansas State Court System.

Mr. Crane's case went back to Kansas. His defense team successfully argued he was not a sexually violent predator, due to his ability to control his behavior. He was released from prison in 2002.

Guess what happened next?

On March 22, 2003, Mr. Crane was arrested for raping a woman in her car in Kansas City, Missouri. He was charged with three counts of forcible sodomy, along with forcible rape, assault, and kidnapping.

Although predicting future violence is not an exact science, it seems reasonable to assume Michael Crane's particular mental illnesses (along with a lot of other information about him not known to the general public) would have pointed to the fact that he was highly likely to act in a sexually violent manner if released from prison. But, we live in a free society--one that values individual liberty. It does not always seem right to incarcerate a person indefinitely because he might be dangerous in the future, essentially considering him guilty before he even commits a crime. This is a difficult line to walk, but we must have the conversation--weighing individual freedom against the good of society--if we are to tackle the issue of violence in our culture.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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