An attorney representing convicted child molester William Hopkins argued for the Missouri Supreme Court to toss out the state’s Sexually Violent Predator law.
Lawyer Chelsea Mitchell told the judges they should scrap the law because it doesn’t allow for those who are declared Sexually Violent Predators to ever be unconditionally released. “The statute on its face is punitive because it would never allow discharge” said Mitchell.
In court documents filed by Mitchell, she contends the Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) Act is punitive, and in violation of the constitution because it doesn’t provide protections such as the Double Jeopardy clause (where a person can’t be prosecuted for the same crime twice).
The state counters that those protections only apply if the act is criminal in nature, and notes the Missouri high court has already held the Sexually Violent Predator Act to be civil, not criminal, in nature.
In 2015, a federal court in St. Louis held that Missouri’s SVP Act was not unconstitutional on its face, but in violation as applied. The federal bench has not determined what remedies will be applied in that case.
The Hopkins case currently before the state high court could be consequential in determining the legality of the act, or if there are remedies to bring it bring it in compliance with the law.
Prisoners found guilty of a sexually violent crime are declared SVPs when there is probable cause to believe that they are likely to engage in sexually violent predatory criminal behavior upon their release.
William Hopkins was serving his term for first degree child molestation when he completed the state’s offender treat program. Before his release from prison, the state alleged he was an SVP and filed to have him committed to the state.
After a series of court hearings in which Hopkins tried to have the motion dismissed, a jury found him to be an SVP and a circuit court committed him to the custody of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
Once committed as an SVP, incarcerated inmates become patients and are sent to the state psychiatric hospital, either in Farmington or Fulton, where they are entered into the Sex Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment Services, or SORTS, program.
Once there, they can only be “conditionally” released, meaning they will always be under state supervision after being let out into the public. Patients can advance through various stages of incarceration based on their success in treatment.
Very few patients have been released since the SVP law was enacted. The are currently 146 patients at the Farmington facility, the largest of the two hospitals offering the SORTS program.
In court documents, Hopkins’ attorney Mitchell argued that the passage of time and experience demonstrates that being committed under the Sexually Violent Predator Act “is punitive, lifetime confinement”.
She argued that such conditions are punitive, and therefore unconstitutional, even if the state Supreme Court had already determined the Sexually Violent Predator Act to be a civil, not criminal, act.
Before the state Supreme Court, Mitchell said that under the law as it now stands, Hopkins would be unjustly committed for life.
“This is the ultimate confinement. Mr. Hopkins custody will never end. He will never be out of government control now that he has been committed as an SVP. It’s statutorily impossible under the current version of our law.”
Mitchell asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional. “If we want to commit someone in Missouri, let’s do it with integrity. Let’s sent it back to the legislature and say ‘You must comply with constitutional standards’, and this version of the law doesn’t”
Hopkins was convicted of child molestation in 2007 at age 18 in northeast Missouri’s Marion County.
As is its custom, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments last Wednesday, and will deliver an opinion sometime in the future.