Re-arrest of sex offender problematic

We’ve surprisingly heard no public reaction to the problematic re-arresting of Randy Siem, a released Level 3 sex offender. Siem was re-arrested, though he committed no new crimes, after Minnesota corrections officials and the state attorney general realized many Level 3 offenders never underwent civil commitment hearings.

Siem will probably be sent to a mental institution for life. After the alleged Dru Sjodin abduction, the Minnesota Department of Corrections changed its policy to automatically forward all Level 3 offenders for commitment without departmental review. Assistant Attorney General Lori Swanson will not estimate the number of Level 3 sex offenders set free without civil commitment hearings, but according to The Associated Press, it is several.

An inquiry must begin into exactly how the Department of Corrections and state attorney general’s office made such an egregious error. Those responsible must be held accountable. The re-arrest of criminals and the civil commitment policy change raise significant constitutional questions, including due process, double jeopardy and the retroactive application of laws.

In the 1997 case Kansas v. Hendricks, the Supreme Court examined whether civil commitment of sexual predators violates ex post facto laws and double jeopardy. The court held that state civil commitment laws must not be punitive in nature, as defined by six constitutional criteria. One requires state law to have “provided strict procedural safeguards.” Minnesota certainly is not meeting that requirement in the case of Siem and many others.

Although it remains important for Minnesota to preserve public safety, it is equally important to protect constitutional rights. The governor and attorney general’s office must act now to address internal incompetence and the dangerous inadequacy of Minnesota law.