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Tuesday April 3, 2001

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State high court may not wait for federal ruling on sex predators

By The Associated Press

PHOENIX - The state Supreme Court may rule on the constitutionality of Arizona's sexual predator law without waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to act on the same issue, a lawyer said yesterday.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed yesterday to rule on a Kansas case to clarify what type of proof states need to justify locking criminals up as sexual predators after they finish their prison terms.

The Kansas Supreme Court last year had ruled the Kansas law unconstitutional, saying the state needed to prove that a man convicted twice of sex-related offenses was unable to control his predatory behavior.

A three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals on Feb. 15 reached the same conclusion about Arizona's similar law, raising the prospect that 136 men confined under the law could be released.

However, the Arizona Supreme Court on March 22 agreed to rule on Attorney General Janet Napolitano's appeal defending the Arizona law. The Supreme Court blocked any releases until it rules.

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider the Kansas case during the court term which begins in October. That would mean a decision would be due by June 2002.

Arizona's justices likely will not wait for their federal counterparts to rule, said Jamie McAlister, a lawyer for seven men confined under the Arizona law.

"I think they'll go ahead and rule. They usually have been quite independent from the U.S. Supreme Court," McAlister said.

McAlister said the Arizona case involves due-process and equal-protection protections found in both the U.S. and Arizona constitutions.

While the Arizona Supreme Court has final say over how to interpret the state Constitution, a U.S. Supreme Court finding on a federal constitutional issue would prevail.

"We have to follow that. If that's what the U.S. Constitution requires, that trumps everything, period," McAlister said.

However, until the U.S. Supreme Court rules, "our Supreme Court can decide whatever," she added.

The state Supreme Court said March 22 it would hear oral arguments on the Arizona case on a date to be determined, and court spokesman Richard Travis said Monday that order still stands. "Everything is still status quo," he said.