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Civil commitment: paying for a crime after serving a sentence

There is no doubt that all types of sex offenses are taken seriously by the government and law enforcement agencies. In fact, we have discussed on this blog cases of people facing the heavy-handed penalties of a sex crime conviction even though an offense may have been relatively minor.

However, there are unfortunately cases when an alleged offense is very serious and involves particularly aggressive acts or vulnerable victims. For people in this situation, the consequences can be so harsh that they toe the line between justified and unconstitutional. One such controversial penalty involves civil commitment.

Civil commitment is a way of keeping sex offenders detained even after they have completely prison or jail sentences. According to Florida civil commitment laws, people who have been convicted of sex crimes involving children, violent acts or in some cases voyeurism can be subject to civil commitment procedures.

What generally happens is that after a person completes his or her sentence, a court may order that person to be evaluated to determine whether he or she exhibits any signs or psychological problems that would make that person a threat to the public. If there is reason to suspect this, a person will can be detained indefinitely for treatment.

While it is true that many sex offenders in the country suffer from psychological problems, one argument against civil commitment is that it is a way to keep a person detained for a crime that has not been -- and may never be -- committed. Further, in some cases, people spend years detained in a facility before they even have a trial to determine if they are in fact a threat and should undergo civil commitment; many times they are found to not be a threat.

There has been movement in other states to reassess the efficacy and constitutionality of civil commitment, but as it stands right now in Florida, civil commitment laws remain harsh and far-reaching.

With all this in mind, people in Florida who may be facing sex crime charges or a civil commitment hearing need to be very clear that their future is on the line. Having legal representation in these situations can be vital.

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