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Sex offenders might be locked up - on suspicion

April 07, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 852

JEFFERSON CITY - If you're a violent sex offender, you might never be able to live down your crime if some Missouri lawmakers have their way.

Missouri's House voted Wednesday, 112-29, to pass a bill that allows the Attorney General's office to review the cases of violent sexual offenders who have already been freed - and have them recommitted.

It comes on the heels of a bill, passed last year, that would allow sex offenders to stay locked up past the end of their sentences.

"It's just a natural follow-up to what we did last session," said Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia. Graham voted in favor of the legislation, while Columbia Reps. Vicky Riback-Wilson and Tim Harlan, both Democrats, were opposed.

Several lawmakers said the bill represented an excess of governmental power.

"This allows the AG to come into your community and dig up whatever he wants," said Rep. Lana Stokan, D-St. Louis County.

"This is beyond our notion of what civil liberties should be about. If these people are that violent, they shouldn't have been released in the first place," said Rep. Mike Schilling, D-Springfield.

But Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, downplayed the outcry about constitutional excess. Hosmer noted the past offenders have a right to a jury trial - and that it would have to be "beyond a reasonable doubt" that they're likely to re-offend.

"It would be easier to lock up a non-offender in a normal civil commitment proceeding," Hosmer said.

In 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sexual offenders could be incarcerated past their sentences - only if it was for the purpose of treatment.

The bill allows offenders to be recommitted if they've been convicted after 1980.

If recommitted, offenders would be placed in treatment facilities operated by the Department of Mental Health - within state prisons.

"They can lock up people indefinitely if they receive treatment. "We'll have to wait to see if they have treatment," said ACLU lobbyist Marsha Richeson said.

"They're literally hounding people out of their homes, their families and their jobs - things that makes them not re-offend," she added.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Brian May, D-St. Louis City, and House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, had been passed unanimously out of committee.

But opposition emerged soon later. "Every year I think there's nothing more they can do to sex offenders," Richeson said. "But every year they do more."

Also Wednesday, the House also voted, 138-6, to expand the definition of deviant sexual misconduct to include masturbating someone. Present sexual misconduct statutes only include contact between the genitals and the tongue, anus or mouth. Wilson was the only Columbia lawmaker to oppose the bill - Harlan and Graham voted in support.

Wilson tried last week to tack on an amendment repealing the state's prohibition of same-sex sexual relations. Her amendment failed 108-31 - despite support from all three Columbia lawmakers.