In its 1997 opinion, Kansas v. Hendricks, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law that reflected a new model of civil commitment. The targets of this new commitment law were dubbed “Sexually Violent Predators” (SVPs), and the Court upheld indefinite detention of these individuals on the assumption that there is a psychiatrically distinct class of individuals who, unlike typical recidivists, have a mental condition that impairs their ability to refrain from violent sexual behavior. And, more specifically, the Court assumed that the justice system could reliably identify the true “predators,” those for whom this unusual and extraordinary deprivation of liberty is appropriate and legitimate, with the aid of testimony from mental health professionals.
This Article evaluates those assumptions and concludes that, because they were seriously flawed, the due process rationale used to uphold the SVP laws is invalid. The “Sexually Violent Predator” is a political and moral construct, not a medical classification. The implementation of SVP laws has resulted in dangerous distortions of both psychiatric expertise and important legal principles, and such distortions reveal an urgent need to reexamine the Supreme Court’s core rationale in upholding the SVP commitment experiment.
Deirdre M. Smith,
Dangerous Diagnoses, Risky Assumptions, and the Failed Experiment of “Sexually Violent Predator” Commitment,
Okla. L. Rev.