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Double Trouble

By Moniqua Lane
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
March 23, 2000
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Washington's Sexually Violent Predator Statute will come under Supreme Court scrutiny, according to an announcement made by the Court yesterday. Five other states - Kansas, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Arizona - had or have similar statutes in their law codes. Generally, these laws mandate that a sexually violent predator remain incarcerated after the sentence has been completed. A sexually violent predator is a person who has repeatedly committed sexually violent acts - presumably rape. As painful as it is to advocate the rights of these kind of people, the Sexually Violent Predator Statute should be repealed by the courts because criminals should be incarcerated for the crimes he or she has committed, not for the person that they are.

In a 5-4 decision three years ago, the nation's highest court ruled that such imprisonment neither violates a prisoner's right to due process nor is it double punishment for the same crime. The Supreme Court's reasoning is that since the extra imprisonment is intended to protect society it is a "civil" punishment not an additional criminal one. The logic employed is beautiful, but sadly, it is flawed.

With this, the Supreme Court has not propounded a legal justification for this statute, but rather a subtle rationalization. The difference is not easy to make clear, but it exists nonetheless - and it has a great deal of importance. A justification provides evidence as to why some belief is true, a rationalization provides an excuse for believing something which is known to be untrue.

What the Sexually Violent Predator Statute does - and the Supreme Court has defended this with its exquisitely poor logic - is punish a person for being a bad person. What the statute ought to do - and the Supreme Court ought to have ruled as such - is punish a person for engaging in bad behavior. An analogy can be made to the way parents punish children. Parents ought not yell at their children that they're stupid, but rather admonish them for not cleaning up their rooms as told to do. It is not illegal to be a kleptomaniac, but it is illegal to steal; it is not illegal to be a drug addict, but it is illegal to possess controlled narcotics. This is a fine, but necessary, punitive line.

Particularly, the case before the Supreme Court will argue that the extra incarceration is punitive because the statute denies the prisoner the "adequate care and individualized treatment" that the state law prescribes for sexually violent predators. This argument is valid, and certainly useful as the only vehicle by which the standing decision could be challenged. This argument is not, however, the strongest.

Among the many ways the previous decision fails is its "civil" punishment defense. The Court argues that when a person is indicted on criminal charges, it is acceptable to pass both criminal and civil sentences. This is wrong. An entirely new civil case is in order because murder is not a federal civil crime. In the new federal case, however, the convicted receive a tougher sentence because depriving someone of civil rights is a federal crime, and thus carries harsher penalties. Typically, civil suits are filed right after, if not in lieu of, criminal suits, and there is no reason why lawsuits involving sexually violent predators should be treated any differently.

Also, the decision falls victim to the faulty belief that this is the only way to deal with sexually violent predators. This is not the case. There is no reason that state law cannot be changed to mimic the "three strikes" laws. After a certain amount of sexually violent crimes, the sentence automatically becomes life imprisonment. It takes a certain amount of violent sexual acts to become designated a sexually violent predator anyway; here is the closest logical step. This way, the incorrigible criminal is not stalking people in the streets, and no one's rights - we often forget the rights of the accused and convicted - are violated.

By failing to address what is a rather simple issue with real jurisprudence, the Supreme Court has does nothing but offer feel good moral prescriptions of little actual value. With the impending case, the Court has the chance to redress this logical lapse. The proper action to take is to strike down the law and remind the state of Washington that if it truly wants to keep sexually violent predators off the streets, it should follow one of the already legitimate courses such as legislating harsher sentences or filing civil suits. The state ought not to punish people for who they are, but rather what have done wrong.

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