Kansas v. Hendricks

LOCATION: Larned State Hospital

DOCKET NO.: 95-1649
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Kansas Supreme Court

CITATION: 521 US 346 (1997)
ARGUED: Dec 10, 1996
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1997

Carla J. Stovall - Argued the cause for Kansas
Thomas J. Weilert - Argued the cause for Hendricks

Facts of the case

As the time neared for Leroy Hendricks' release from prison, having served for his long history of child sexual molestation, the State of Kansas sought his commitment under its Sexually Violent Predator Act (Act). After testifying that he agreed with the diagnosis that he still suffered from pedophilia and is likely to molest children again, Hendricks became a candidate for civil commitment under the Act which provided for the institutionalization of persons likely to engage in "predatory acts of sexual violence" brought on by "mental abnormality" or "personality disorder[s]." On appeal from a court ordered commitment, the Kansas Supreme Court invalidated the Act as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court granted Kansas certiorari.


Did the Act's civil commitment provisions, based on its definition of what constitutes a "mental abnormality," violate substantive due process and double jeopardy requirements?

Media for Kansas v. Hendricks

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 10, 1996 in Kansas v. Hendricks

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 23, 1997 in Kansas v. Hendricks

The opinion of the Court in Number 95-1649, Kansas against Hendricks, and a related case will be announced by Justice Thomas.

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the Kansas Supreme Court.

The Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act establishes procedures for the civil commitment of persons who -- due to a mental abnormality or a personality disorder, are likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence.

Kansas filed a petition under the act to commit respondent, Hendricks, who has a long history of molesting children, and who was scheduled for release from prison.

Hendricks admitted that he suffered from pedophilia.

The jury determined that he was a sexually violent predator, and the Court ordered him committed it.

Hendricks appealed, arguing that the act violates among other things, the Constitution's due process, ex post facto in double jeopardy clauses.

The Kansas Supreme Court invalidated the act on the ground that the precommitment condition of a mental abnormality did not satisfy what is perceived to be the substantive due process requirement, that involuntary civil commitment must be predicated on a finding of mental illness.

The Kansas Court did not, however, address Hendricks' other constitutional challenges.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we reversed the acts' definition of mental abnormality satisfies substantive due process requirements.

This Court has consistently upheld involuntary civil commitment statutes that detain individuals who are unable to control their behavior, and thereby, post a danger to the public health and safety.

Provided the statute couples proof of dangerousness with proof of some additional factor, such as “mental illness.”

These additional requirements served to limit the involuntary confinement to those who suffer from a volitional impairment rendering them dangerous beyond their control.

The Kansas Act sets forth sufficient criteria with its precommitment requirement of mental abnormality or personality disorder.

The Court has not required states to adopt any particular nomenclature in drafting civil commitment statutes.

The Kansas Legislature is therefore, not required to use a specific term “mental illness” and is free to adopt terminology that convey similar meaning.

Nor does the act violate the Constitution's double jeopardy proscription or it's banned on ex post facto lawmaking.

The Act does not established criminal proceedings, and thus, involuntary confinement under it does not constitute punishment.

The categorization of a particular proceeding as civil or criminal is a question of statutory construction.

Nothing on the Act's face suggest that Kansas intended to create anything other than a civil commitment scheme.

The legislature's expressed intent will be rejected only if the party challenging the statute provides the clearest proof that the scheme is so punitive in its purpose or effect, as to negate the State's intention to deem it civil.

Hendricks has failed to satisfy this heavy burden.

Commitment under this Act does not implicate either of the two primary objectives of criminal punishment, retribution or deterrence.

Retribution is not one of -- retribution is not one of its purposes.

It is not a fixed culpability for prior criminal conduct.

It does not make criminal conviction a prerequisite for a commitment and it lacks a scienter requirement.

Nor does the Act have a deterrent effect, since persons with mental abnormality are unlikely to be deterred by the threat of confinement.

Moreover, the conditions surrounding confinement is essentially the same as conditions where any other civilly committed patient do not suggest a deterrent purpose.

Although the commitment scheme here involves affirmative restraint, such restraint of the dangerously -- dangerously mentally ill has been historically regarded as a legitimate non-punitive objective.

And the confinement's potentially indefinite duration is linked, not to any punitive end, but to the purpose of holding a person until his mental abnormality no longer causes him to be a threat to others.