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Minnesota: 1999 Law Requiring Sex Offenders To Undergo Mental Health Treatment Cannot Be Applied Retroactively

by John E. Dannenberg

The Minnesota Court of Appeals held that a 1999 statutory amendment mandating all sex offenders to undergo mental health treatment was an ex post facto law as applied to a prisoner sentenced in 1985. The earlier version of the statute had only provided for voluntary participation in such a program. Thus, punishment for refusal later was unlawful. However, the appellate court held that in an individual habeas proceeding, the lower court overreached when it ordered the Commissioner of Corrections (Commissioner) to create a general due process administrative procedure to protect similarly situated prisoners in the future.

James Rud, originally charged in 1983 with 75 counts of criminal sexual conduct, pled out to 10 counts in 1985 and was sentenced to 463 months in prison. In 2003, the commissioner ordered Rud to enter sex-offender treatment, but he refused. He was infracted and taxed 90 days of additional time in prison. After losing his administrative appeal, Rud petitioned the district court on habeas corpus. That court overturned the infraction because application of the 1999 treatment amendment to him was ex post facto. It also held that Rud was denied due process because there was no procedure he could use to ever restore his good time credit loss, and ordered the commissioner to create one.

On appeal, the court reviewed the questions of law de novo. It considered legislative intent in both the creation of the original statute (Minn. Stat. § 241.01, subd. 3a(b) (1984)) and the 1999 amendment (Minn. Laws ch. 126, § 8). It construed the 1984 general law, but gave preference to the 1999 special provision where any conflict appeared. It also analyzed the effect of the 1992 change to the “good time” credit laws (Minn. Stat. § 244.03), which specifically recognized the voluntary nature of sex offender treatment.
The fact that § 244.03 granted authority to punish those who refused to participate in rehabilitative programs did not overcome the voluntary nature of the 1984 statute. Only with the 1999 amendment did the Minnesota legislature enact mandatory participation punishable upon refusal. The court of appeal therefore upheld the district court’s restoration of Rud’s 90-day credit loss.

But habeas corpus applies only to the person aggrieved. The appellate court found that the lower court thus went too far when it ordered the commissioner to create a general due process rule for restoration of good time credits to be applied to all similarly situated offenders, and reversed that order of injunctive relief. Rud was represented by St. Paul attorney Bradford Colbert and student attorney Vadim Trifel of the Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners. See: Rud v. Fabian, Minn. Court of Appeals, 743 N.W.2d 295 (2007).

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Related legal case

Rud v. Fabian, Minn. Court of Appeals