- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 27, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that a state law allowing sex offenders to be committed indefinitely to mental institutions after prison is constitutional.

Judges ruled 6-0 in two separate cases that two men were constitutionally committed and reaffirmed the law.

A public defender for the men had argued their commitments were punitive, meant lifetime confinement and amounted to second punishments after they already served time in prison. The attorney, Chelsea Mitchell, said that meant her clients’ rights to due process, equal protection and a fair trial were violated.

But judges wrote that “this entire collection of arguments has been rejected in the past,” and reaffirmed the law.

The law at issue says that if prisoners have a “mental abnormality” making them act out in a sexually violent way, then they should be evaluated before they leave prison.

If a team of Department of Corrections and Department of Mental Health experts determine the prisoners still are dangerous, a judge can commit the offenders to a secure mental health facility following the completion of their criminal sentences.

People committed as sexually violent predators can’t leave the mental health facility until they are reviewed and deemed safe to be released.

The main Missouri ruling cites a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case about a similar Kansas law that justices found constitutional in part because they said it was not punitive. Justices said the Kansas law was limited to particularly dangerous people, had “strict procedural safeguards,” provided treatment if possible and allowed for release, among other requirements.

Missouri Supreme Court judges said the state law meets those requirements and therefore is not punitive.

The two men who appealed to the high court - Carl Kirk and Jay Nelson - both served time in jail and then were committed. Kirk served time in prison for sodomizing a minor, and Nelson was convicted of rape in 1989. While in prison, Nelson also was accused of sexually assaulting female guards.

Their attorney, Chelsea Mitchell, also argued to judges that release appears almost impossible and that no one has been allowed to leave.

Judges ruled that the case centered on Kirk and Nelson’s commitments, and so they didn’t consider the constitutionality of how release works under the program.

Mitchell did not immediately comment Tuesday.

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