OLYMPIA – The state Supreme Court has ruled that sexually violent offenders already committed to McNeil Island must show progress in treatment to be granted a new trial aimed at seeking their freedom.
Washington’s civil-commitment law allows the state to indefinitely lock up sex offenders beyond their prison sentence if they suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder and are deemed too dangerous for the community. More than 280 offenders are housed at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.
The justices issued the 6-3 decision Thursday in State v. McCuistion. Taxpayers would have faced an additional $22.5 million in annual costs for experts and lawyers in new civil-commitment trials if the Supreme Court had ruled against the state.
The decision deals with the standard that sexually violent predators must meet to get new trials at which they ask to be released from McNeil Island.
Currently, state psychologists evaluate the sexually violent predators at the center every year to see if they meet the criteria for continued confinement. Offenders have a right to hire their own evaluators. State law says that to get a new trial, an offender first has to show progress in treatment or be physically incapacitated.
David McCuistion, a sex offender committed in 2003, challenged the law. He sued the state, saying it violated his constitutional rights because it denied him a hearing to show new evidence.
Although he had neither taken treatment nor become physically disabled, McCuistion argued that he didn’t meet the criteria for continued commitment.