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Can I be held after I serve my sentence for a sex crime?


Yes, you can, under Florida's harsh civil commitment laws. Those convicted of sex offenses are often detained indefinitely for crimes they haven't yet committed. After serving their sentences, they are transferred to the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia. It doesn't sound like a prison, does it? Well it is, only worse, because the inmates there never know when, if ever, they will be released. As a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, I have represented those who have been subjected to involuntary civil commitment.

What is civil commitment? In essence, it's locking someone up indefinitely for a crime they haven't yet committed. It is reserved for those who were convicted of violent sexual offenses and judged to still be a risk. And given certain findings, a state attorney is now required to refer a person to civil commitment and a judge required to order a person into civil commitment custody. It makes Florida one of the harshest states in the country for sex offenders. Horror stories abound. David G. served nine years in prison for rape. He said the woman was his ex-girlfriend and his drug dealer, but he took a plea on his lawyers advice. When his term was finished, the State recommended that they proceed with a civil commitment hearing and David was taken to Arcadia. When he finally got his hearing, some four and a half years later, a jury determined that he wasn't a threat and released him.

David said the experience was worse than prison. "It's like a living death sentence", he said. Under the current Florida law (also referred to as the Jimmy Ryce Act), at the end of a sexual offender's criminal sentence, they are psychologically evaluated by a least two people for a "mental abnormality" or "personality disorder" that would predispose them to commit another violent sex crime (only one needs to conduct an in-person interview). If judged to be dangerous, they're taken to Arcadia, where they wait their commitment trial. These trials are not based on past crimes, but rather the probability of future ones. As such, they rely heavily on expert witnesses who, somehow, predict the future behavior of sex offenders.

The State of Florida, expecting a dramatic increase in the number of sex offenders who will be civilly committed, is considering adding a wing to the Arcadia facility or converting a prison to handle the overflow. Arcadia currently houses over 650 inmates. Interestingly, a national study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that just 5.3% of sex offenders were arrested for another sex crime within three years of their release, a much lower recidivism rate than for most other crimes. And sex offenders are saddled, often for life, with restrictions that make it extremely difficult for them to have stable jobs, housing, families and access to other services. Arcadia has no programs to help residents readjust back to life on the outside.

Lesson Learned:

Some inmates in Arcadia wait eight, nine, even ten years before getting inside a courtroom for a trial. And the State of Florida likes it this way. This law violates pretty much every individual constitutional right there is. No "expert' can predict whether or not someone will commit a crime again. Unfortunately, this bizarre, Kafkaesque law is here to stay.

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