In a rare move, the Minnesota Supreme Court has overturned the civil commitment of a man confined to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. The ruling does not mean the convicted rapist at the center of case, Cedrick Ince, will walk free immediately.
In 2008, Ince pleaded guilty in juvenile court to fifth degree criminal sexual conduct for raping a 17-year-old girl after she passed out at a party.
While he was on probation for that crime, Ince, who was 18 years old at the time, broke into the home of a former girlfriend, choked and raped her. He entered another guilty plea -- this time in adult court -- and was sentenced to two years in prison.
The day before Ince's scheduled release, authorities in Sibley County filed a petition for civil commitment. While that case was pending, Ince was set free on intensive supervised release.
“Essentially what the court is saying is that it wants the district court judges to be more specific in articulating why they found somebody was committable.”Eric Janus, dean of the William Mitchell College of Law
His attorney, Ken White, said Ince began to turn his life around: "He was employed. He was working for a dairy farmer. He was living on his own," White said. "He had purchased a pickup truck on credit."
Ince -- who's now 24 -- also attended AA meetings, stayed sober, and had started a court-ordered outpatient sex offender treatment program.
However, in Minnesota, a person can be civilly committed indefinitely to a prison-like facility even after serving out a sentence if a court determines that a person is "highly likely" to commit more sex crimes.
“It's an issue that can be very easily manipulated and made much more emotional.”State Sen. Warren Limmer
That's what happened to Ince. At a 2012 hearing, a court-appointed psychologist testified that Ince was 60 percent likely to reoffend based on statistical models. A Sibley County judge agreed, and Ince has been living ever since behind barbed wire at the Minnesota Sex Offender Progam's treatment facility in Moose Lake.
In the ruling handed down Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the way the lower court determined Ince's likelihood of re-offending. Justice Barry Anderson wrote that attempting to predict a person's future conduct is inherently risky and determining what "highly likely" means is not simply a matter of assigning a numeric value.
Eric Janus, dean of the William Mitchell College of Law and a longtime critic of the civil commitment process, said courts have reversed very few of these kinds of commitments.
The ruling is not sweeping, however, and Janus said the court stopped short of setting exact standards of risk a sex offender must meet to be committed. Still, Janus said the high court's move is significant: "Essentially what the court is saying is that it wants the district court judges to be more specific in articulating why they found somebody was committable, or why they thought that some less restrictive alternative in the community wouldn't be suitable."
In a concurring opinion, Justice Alan Page acknowledged the need to protect the public, but said Ince should have other treatment options since he did demonstrate a measure of self-control after prison. Page criticized the state legislature for creating a "one-size-fits-all commitment system" that only allows for confinement in a secure facility, regardless of how dangerous an offender may be.
State Sen. Warren Limmer is among the bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to reform the sex offender commitment system. But the Maple Grove Republican said legislators are not likely to take up such a hot-button issue in the final weeks of the session.
"It's an issue that can be very easily manipulated and made much more emotional, and I think that most legislative leaders decided not to spike the ball this close to an election year," Limmer said.
If lawmakers don't change the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, a federal judge might. In a class action lawsuit, all of the approximately 700 sex offenders under civil commitment claim the program is unconstitutional because they're not getting adequate treatment and have no real chance of release.
In February, Judge Donovan Frank allowed the case to proceed, and now a court-ordered team of experts has begun evaluating everyone in the program for possible alternative placement.
As for the person at the center of the state supreme court ruling -- attorney Ken White says he'll argue at a hearing next week that Cedrick Ince should be released from Moose Lake while a Sibley County judge again determines his fate.