Kansas v. Crane

LOCATION:United States District Court Eastern District of Michigan

DOCKET NO.: 00-957
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Kansas Supreme Court

CITATION: 534 US 407 (2002)
ARGUED: Oct 30, 2001
DECIDED: Jan 22, 2002

Carla J. Stovall – Topeka, Kansas, argued the cause for the petitioner
John C. Donham – Kansas, argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act in Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346. In doing so, the Court characterized a dangerous sexual offender’s confinement as civil rather than criminal and held that the confinement criterion embodied in the statute’s words — “mental abnormality or personality disorder” — satisfied substantive due process. When the state of Kansas filed a petition in a Kansas district court to have Michael T. Crane, a previously convicted sexual offender, committed, the Kansas District Court ordered his civil commitment. In reversing, the State Supreme Court concluded that Hendricks requires a finding that the defendant cannot control his dangerous behavior even if, as provided by Kansas law, problems of emotional, and not volitional, capacity prove the source of behavior warranting commitment. The trial court had made no such finding.


Did the Kansas Supreme Court interpret Kansas v. Hendricks in an overly restrictive manner by ruling that it requires a finding that a sexual offender, who has only an emotional or personality disorder, rather than a volitional impairment, has an inability to control dangerous behavior?

Media for Kansas v. Crane

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 30, 2001 in Kansas v. Crane

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 22, 2002 in Kansas v. Crane

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in No. 00-957, Kansas against Crane will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

This court has grievously said that the constitution permits the civil commitment of a Dangerous sexual offender where first, the state applying proper procedures; second, determines that offender remained dangerous; and third, as a result of a mental illness or abnormality.

In this case, which arises under Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act, we assumed that the procedures are proper and that the offender is dangerous, but what does the constitution require Kansas in order to show that it is a mental illness or abnormality, rather than say, ordinary criminal propensities that make the sexual offender dangerous. We previously considered the same Act in Kansas versus Hendricks, and in that case, we said that the offender’s inability to control his behavior satisfied any kind of constitutional due process requirements.

In this case, the State of Kansas says that the Kansas Supreme Court reading our prior opinion in Hendricks thought it meant that the State had to show he could not control his behavior at all, and Kansas adds that is far too strict to constitutional interpretation that is not what we said.

We agree with Kansas that the constitution does not require a State when it wants to commit civilly a dangerous sexual offender to show that the offender is totally unable to control his sexually dangerous behavior, but we do not agree with the State in so far as it seems to claim that the constitution would permit this kind of civil commitment without any lack of control requirement.

Rather, in our view the constitution requires the state to demonstrate a serious difficulty in controlling behavior and that difficulty when viewed in light of, for example the nature of the psychiatric diagnosis and the severity of the mental abnormality itself must distinguish the dangerous offender whose serious mental abnormality or illness or disorder subjects him to civil commitment.

It must distinguish that kind of a person from a dangerous but typical criminal recidivist convicted in an ordinary criminal case.

We recognize that this standard does not draw a mathematically precised bright line, but the constitution safeguards in the area of mental illness are not always best enforced through bright lines.

Such lines do not take into account the definitional leeway that the constitution grants the states, nor do they take into account the relationship between law and psychiatric, a science that must inform though it cannot control the ultimate legal determination.

A science that makes judgments and distinctions that are related to that which do not precisely mirror legal distinctions and which is a science that changes or evolves as it advances.

Consequently, we have tried to provide constitutional guidance in this area both here and in our earlier case Hendricks by proceeding deliberately and contextually elaborating the general constitutional standards and objectives as circumstances require.

The State also argues that the Kansas Supreme Court wrongly limited the class of individuals that the constitution permits it civilly to commit under this Act to those suffering from volitional defects that we ruled out commitment of those suffering from emotional or cognitive illnesses.

This court has not previously used those particular contexts when it has tried to make concepts when it has tried to make constitutional distinction.

We did not consider in Hendricks whether the constitution would permit civil confinement of the dangerous sexual offender whose illness or abnormality was solely emotional rather volitional and the case before us does not give us an opportunity to decide that either.

Consequently, we vacate the judgment of the Kansas Supreme Court and we remand for further proceeding.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion which Justice Thomas has joined.