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Nebraska Sex Offender Argues Due Process in Appeal of Commitment Order

Before the Nebraska Supreme Court, Appellant S.J. challenged the lower court’s affirmation of the Mental Health Board of the Fourth Judicial District’s order terming him a “dangerous sexual offender” and as such confining him to an inpatient treatment center, the Norfolk Regional Center (NRC), until such time as an adequate outpatient program could be fashioned with available resources and funds. These actions were promulgated under the constraints of the Nebraska Sex Offender Commitment Act of 1971 (SOCA) Reissue 2009. Responded to the provision of the SOCA, the Mental Health Board drafted the Department of Health and Human Services to locate a program or facility sufficient to the needs of both S.J. and the citizens of Nebraska, in lieu of S.J.’s commitment being terminated.

The NRC reported shortly thereafter that risk factors previously not noted in the testing of S.J. had come to light which raised the likelihood of his reoffending from medium to high, elevating his “least restrictive treatment” to continued inpatient treatment. The Mental Health Board adopted that diagnosis.

S.J. appealed that finding to the District Court of Douglas County, Nebraska, asserting that his due process rights, both procedural and substantive, had been violated, along with his right to adjudication before an impartial decision maker. The district concluded that SOCA provided adequate procedural due process in connection with commitment decision thereunder, and similarly adequate substantive due process because the least restrictive treatment policy or inpatient treatment served compelling state interest in both rehabilitating S.J. and protecting the public.

S.J. appealed to the court at bar, claiming the lower court erred in its findings. The Nebraska Supreme Court reviewed the case de novo on the record. The court first held that S.J. was substantially unable to control his criminal behavior. The court determined on the face of the record reflecting expert testimony explaining why in S.J.’s case inpatient treatment was the least restrictive method of treatment. The court likewise upheld the district court on the due process issues wherein S.J. averred the Mental Health Board tailored a treatment program on the basis of facilities available, rather than facilities least restrictive. The Court noted that the wording of the statute had in that same least restrictive clause the adjective “appropriate,” which outpatient treatment was clearly not. The other due process claims were not, the court noted, backed up by evidence. The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected S.J.’s challenge of the constitutionality of SOCA and, affirmed the district court. See: In re S.J., 283 Neb. 507, 810 N.W.2d 720 (Neb. 2012).

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Related legal case

In re S.J.