OCTOBER TERM, 2001
certiorari to the supreme court of kansas
No. 00-957. Argued October 30, 2001—Decided January 22, 2002
In upholding the constitutionality of the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act, this Court characterized a dangerous sexual offender's confinement as civil rather than criminal, Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U. S. 346, 369, and held that the confinement criterion embodied in the statute's words "mental abnormality or personality disorder" satisfied substantive due process, id., at 356, 360. Here, the Kansas District Court ordered the civil commitment of respondent Crane, a previously convicted sexual offender. 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. And the trial court had made no such finding.
Held: Hendricks set forth no requirement of total or complete lack of control, but the Constitution does not permit commitment of the type of dangerous sexual offender considered in Hendricks without any lack-of-control determination. Hendricks referred to the Act as requiring an abnormality or disorder that makes it "difficult, if not impossible, for the [dangerous] person to control his dangerous behavior." Id., at 358 (emphasis added). The word "difficult" indicates that the lack of control was not absolute. Indeed, an absolutist approach is un-workable and would risk barring the civil commitment of highly dangerous persons suffering severe mental abnormalities. Yet a distinction between a dangerous sexual offender subject to civil commitment and "other dangerous persons who are perhaps more properly dealt with exclusively through criminal proceedings," id., at 360, is necessary lest "civil commitment" become a "mechanism for retribution or general deterrence," id., at 372-373. In Hendricks, this Court did not give "lack of control" a particularly narrow or technical meaning, and in cases where it is at issue, "inability to control behavior" will not be demonstrable with mathematical precision. It is enough to say that there must be proof of serious difficulty in controlling behavior. The Constitution's liberty safeguards in the area of mental illness are not always best enforced through precise bright-line rules. States retain considerable leeway in defining the mental abnormalities and personality disorders that make an individual eligible for commitment; and psychiatry, which informs but does not control ultimate legal determina-
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