Sex offender’s case gets review board hearing

Published 9:20 am Monday, June 30, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — Federal hearings in July will focus on whether one man in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program should be released. U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank and U.S. Magistrate Jeffrey Keyes put the man’s case on a fast track after attorney Dan Gustafson argued that every day his client is still confined is a violation of his rights.

The state is arguing the man, identified in court documents as E.T., is a danger, still needs treatment and shouldn’t be immediately released. They also argue that any move to release him should go through a state-mandated process.

Still, MSOP officials have petitioned to move E.T. to a less restrictive part of the program.

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The Minnesota Sex Offender Program is the state-run treatment program for sexual offenders who have been civilly committed as sexually dangerous or sexual psychopaths. Nearly 700 offenders have been civilly committed to high-security facilities in Moose Lake or St. Peter after their prison terms were completed.

MSOP residents filed a class-action lawsuit in 2011, alleging the program is unconstitutional because it keeps offenders locked up indefinitely.

Attorneys for residents argue the program amounts to a life sentence; only one patient has moved through treatment and been successfully released, with provisions, since 1994.

As part of the litigation, court-appointed experts are evaluating whether patients are receiving appropriate treatment. In the case of E.T., experts found little evidence showing he was a risk and recommended he be unconditionally released.

The state disagrees, but the executive director of MSOP has filed a petition to transfer E.T. to a less-restrictive environment, to reintegrate him into society.

The state process

If a person wants to leave MSOP, a petition must be filed with a special review board. Wednesday’s special review board hearing for E.T. will be closed to the public.

The board will hear from the attorney for Todd County — where E.T. was committed — as well as MSOP treatment staff and others. Todd County Attorney Chuck Rasmussen said Friday he was still reviewing documents and hadn’t taken a position.

According to information from a recent court hearing, two doctors at MSOP believe E.T. isn’t suitable for transfer. Their opinions will also be included.

The review board has 30 days after the hearing to make a recommendation, which goes to a state Supreme Court Appeal Panel. Any party can file an objection, which would lead to another hearing. The ruling takes effect 15 days after a panel issues an order.

The process takes time: While E.T.’s case is going before the board less than a month after his petition was filed, the most recent data from the Department of Human Services shows it has been taking nine to 12 months to schedule board hearings after petitions were filed.

Legal issues

In addition to arguing that E.T. doesn’t meet standards required for discharge, state attorneys also said the federal judges don’t have the authority to release him in the context of this lawsuit.

But attorneys for E.T. have filed a federal habeas corpus petition, which gives federal judges power to release someone from an unlawful detention after all state remedies are exhausted.

Gustafson argued that since the state petition process could take a year, Frank could take exception and free E.T. now.