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Minnesota Supreme Court rules sex offenders don't have to confess to crime

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The Fifth Amendment prevents the government from compelling U.S. citizens to reveal information about themselves that could lead to jail. Lino Lakes inmate Frank Johnson argued that Minnesota's correction system was forcing him to do just that.

A majority of the state Supreme Court agreed.

Johnson refused to admit his crime as part of a sex offender treatment program because if he did, he argued, prosecutors could use that admission against him in his appeal. As a consequence, he had to spend 45 days of his supervised release time locked up.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Russell Anderson said the right against self-incrimination doesn't end with conviction. He says it survives until the time limit for filing an appeal expires or an appeal is no longer pending. The ruling means the court overruled one of its own decisions, made in 1999.

The current ruling means the court has changed its approach and the Department of Corrections will adapt, says Brent Wartner, an attorney representing the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

"One of the things is trying to decide what the most successful treatment program we can have with this particular limitation as to what they can be asked and what they can't be asked," he says. "We'll have to meet with the individuals in charge of the treatment program and what methods or procedures we'll have to adopt to comply with this decision."

Defendants have raised the Fifth Amendment privilege in connection with sex offender treatment in the past, but lost. In 2002, then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor raised the issue that such treatment could violate the Fifth Amendment. The majority in Minnesota's case based its decision in part on her opinion.

Writing in dissent Minnesota Justices G. Barry Anderson and Lori Gildea said the majority gave O'Connor's opinion too much weight. Under that decision, the court said requiring sex offenders to admit their crimes in treatment wasn't about giving up rights, it was about making a choice.

Brent Wartner said he didn't see any roads for an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. He said even though it concerns a constitutional issue, it's fairly limited to how the court views Minnesota's sentencing framework.