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On July 5, 2016, in State v. Dennis K., the Court of Appeals of New York upheld the civil commitment of two individuals in accordance with article 10 of the Mental Hygiene Law. The majority relied on the testimony of expert witnesses and the individuals’ past criminal records to classify them as possessing a “mental abnormality” that predisposes them to commit sexual offenses, a necessary element of a civil commitment finding. The court ultimately found the evidence presented sufficient to make this classification and indefinitely restrict the freedom of such individuals. In contrast, the dissent emphasized the lack of certainty in such classifications, specifically in the link between the mental diagnoses of the individuals and their predisposition to commit sexual offenses. In civilly committing individuals who may not be predisposed to commit sex offenses, the dissent accurately argues that the state statute is not serving a legitimate purpose, and is therefore unjustly infringing on the substantive due process rights of those who commit sexual offenses, an already politically unpopular group.
Cleaning Up the Standards of the Mental Hygiene Law: State v. Dennis K. and Civil Commitment,
B.C.J.L. & Soc. Just.
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