Florida Courts Discuss “Sexually Violent Predator” Designation

In 1998, the Florida legislature passed the “Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators’ Treatment and Care Act” (“Ryce Act”). This is a mechanism for Florida courts to use civil commitment for individuals who have been designated as sexually violent predators. In other words, after someone has been convicted of a Florida crime and served their sentence, this law allows a way for the state to keep them isolated from the community.

Requirements for Sexually Violent Predator Status

In order for the state to take away someone’s right to be in the community beyond the time they are sentenced to, they need to prove that the defendant meets certain criteria. The purpose of this law is to keep the community safe from sex offenders who are likely to continue to commit sex crimes in the future.

The process for a defendant to be deemed a sexually violent predator (“SVP”) is not a criminal proceeding, but a civil proceeding. That means that defendants do not have all of the same rights that a defendant would have in a criminal trial. However, due to the significant liberty interests at stake, defendants are afforded many protections. (I am using the word “defendant” though it is not entirely accurate for the sake of simplicity as at one time the individual was a defendant from the original sex crime charges.)

The first step is the Florida Department of Corrections or another agency identifying someone as potentially falling under the purview of the Ryce Act. The Ryce Act can apply to anyone who has been convicted of a sexually violent offense and also has a mental health or personality disorder that makes it likely that they will continue to perpetrate sexually violent offenses unless they are committed. Civil commitment does not take place in a prison. Instead, there are Children and Family Service facilities where the individuals will reside until they are deemed to no longer be a threat to the community.

After a potential Ryce Act defendant has been identified, they are screened by psychologists and a multidisciplinary team meets to determine if they should be committed. If the state attorney agrees with the recommendation, then they file a probable cause petition. Then there is a civil commitment proceeding where the judge or jury determines whether the defendant should be adjudicated as a sexually violent predator. If there is a jury, they must unanimously find for civil commitment.

Directed Verdicts and the Ryce Act

The case at issue involves whether a directed verdict in a Ryce Act trial can stand. A directed verdict is when the judge finds that there is no way a jury could find another way and enters a verdict. In this case, a man was deemed a sexually violent predator through a directed verdict by the judge. This appeal, heard by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, upheld the verdict. Thus, directed verdicts in Ryce Act cases are proper.

Contact an Experienced St. Petersburg Sex Crimes Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

If you are charged with a sex crime, you need to contact a knowledgeable St. Petersburg sex crimes criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The skilled attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm have extensive experience defending clients from sex crime charges and will fight zealously on your behalf. Contact us online or call our offices at (727) 897-5413 to speak with our attorneys today.

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