October 10, 2010

Rare juror speaks out after sexual predator trial

Civil commitment unfair, says law-and-order Floridian

Juror Number 6 is a conservative, law-and-order Republican. But she was appalled when she realized that in the United States, someone can be indefinitely detained not for what he has done, but for what he might do in the future.

Kathy Martin spoke to a news reporter after she and her five colleagues refused to civilly commit a convicted sex offender. Robert Richard Sanzone, age 34, had finished the prison term imposed in 2004 for having sex with one 15-year-old girl and trying to coax a second girl into sexual intimacies.

Martin said that she was struck by the similarities between the 2002 film Minority Report and Florida's Jimmy Ryce Act, under which sex offenders who are determined to still be a danger to society may be held indefinitely for so-called treatment.

"I didn't realize in America you could be given an indefinite sentence," the registered nurse told reporter Richard Prior of Florida's St. Augustine Record. “I'm not a bleeding-heart liberal, but I would like to think someone can't incarcerate me because they think I might do something."

Martin said she and the other members of the 5-woman, 1-man jury were skeptical of the reliability of the Static-99 actuarial risk assessment tool.

She also expressed concern about civilly committing someone for having consensual sex with a teenager.
"This is supposed to be about violent sexual predators, and I kept waiting for the violence to come up. I kept waiting for one of the witnesses to say he threw (them) against the wall or pushed (them) to the ground or pulled a knife. When I realized that wasn't going to happen ... well, I listened politely to the closing argument, but by that time I'd made up my mind."
Florida's Jimmy Ryce Act was passed in 1998 after Juan Carlos Chavez raped, beat, dismembered, and murdered 9-year-old Jimmy Rye in 1995. Chavez is currently awaiting execution on Florida's death row. The Ryce Act parallels sexually violent predator civil commitment laws in 20 U.S. states.

The articulate juror said she understands why horrific crimes lead to new laws, but she doesn't like that knee-jerk practice.
"When a brutal case occurs, the public wants to do something. It makes us feel better that we passed a law. This law has unintended consequences that can come back and bite someone's behind. I think these laws are just feel-good measures."
Two psychologists, Amy Swan and Mary Anne Etheridge, testified in favor of civil ccommitment for Sanzone. Dr. Etheridge diagnosed Sanzone with "fetishism" -- in this case toward underwear -- as well as the ubiquitous antisocial personality disorder.

Psychologist Deborah Leporowski, the lone defense witness, disputed the prosecution psychologists' estimation of Sanzone's risk, and said many of his early problems could be attributed to teenage impulsivity and immaturity.

Sanzone will remain on special sex offender probation for many years, and will be banned from schools, playgrounds, or other places where children congregate.

Richard Prior's fascinating interview with juror Kathy Martin is HERE.


The Defence Brief said...

Here in England and Wales we have Imprionment for the Public Protection. These are sentences that must be imposed for certain offences where the defendant has been found to be dangerous. The offences cover quite a wide range, including violent and sexual offences.

I'm a little surprised at the jurors naivity in thinking that nobody could be locked up indefinately, especially in a country that still executes people! I'm also surprised that it is controversial to imprison people to prevent them committing future crimes... I thought that was one of the main points of prison.

Karen Franklin, Ph.D. said...

Here in the USA, we used to have indeterminate sentencing for certain crimes. With determinate sentencing, though, a prisoner is supposed to be freed on parole after finishing his assigned prison term. The abolition of indeterminate sentencing contributed to the emergence of these new civil commitment laws. They are certainly controversial, as they are a form of preventive detention. It's nice to hear your perspective from the UK. But your "Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder" civil commitment law is controversial, too, and may ultimately be eliminated due to cost and ineffectiveness. I blogged about that in March: http://bit.ly/d4I8dF