‘Sexual Predator’ Cases on Hold Pending Ruling on Appeal
An appeals court has joined the debate over the constitutionality of the state’s new “sexual predator” law, putting on hold several Orange County cases pending further legal review.
Four convicted Orange County sex offenders who have served their prison sentences remained in custody Thursday as a legal battle over the law moved before the 4th District Court of Appeal.
The action comes nearly two weeks after an Orange County Superior Court judge upheld the constitutionality of the law, which allows juries to decide if prisoners deemed as sexual predators should be confined to state mental hospitals after finishing their prison terms.
The Orange County public defender’s office is seeking to overturn the law on constitutional grounds, arguing in part that it punishes someone twice for the same offense and applies retroactively to crimes committed before the law was in effect.
Prosecutors say the law is designed as a civil commitment to treat offenders and protect society from violent sexual predators, not as a punitive measure that would violate constitutional rights.
Local prosecutors have initiated commitment proceedings against eight offenders--at least three of whom molested children--since the law went into effect in January, with a ninth case under review, Deputy Dist. Atty. Camille Hill said.
The appellate review affects commitment proceedings pending against Carlos Dominguez, Michael Burgos, Dennis Angeli and Robert Lefort. Deputy Public Defender Alan Crivaro said he will seek to include the other pending cases in the review.
In a brief order filed Wednesday, the Court of Appeal set two deadlines in August for further legal responses by prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The law has provoked conflicting court rulings in counties throughout the state, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review the issue in a case stemming from a similar law in Kansas.
California’s law applies to sex offenders who assault two or more victims and have been deemed dangerous and “mentally defective” by mental health experts. Prosecutors can ask for a jury trial to determine whether an offender should be committed for two years to a state mental hospital. The process can be repeated every two years if the offender continues to be deemed a sexual predator by psychiatrists.
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