In an opinion issued on June 5th, the New York Court of Appeals, for the second time in eight months, ruled that former Gov. George Pataki exceeded his authority when he tried to keep sex offenders locked up after completing their prison terms. Specifically, the Court of Appeals concluded that the former governor erred when he invoked a section of the state's mental-hygiene law to transfer 10 anonymous offenders to a secure psychiatric hospital after they finished their sentences in 2005.
According to this account, Pataki was apparently frustrated that the state Legislature had not enacted a law to confine sex criminals past their release dates; the issue was a hot one because a paroled rapist had been charged in a high-profile White Plains slaying.
Earlier this year, the New York enacted a law - informally named after victim Concetta Russo-Carriero - that allows for continued "civil confinement" of dangerous sex offenders.
In yesterday's 7-0 decision, the court ruled that the prisoners Pataki ordered committed were still controlled by the state correction law, not the mental-hygiene law, and should have been granted hearings to determine if they posed a danger to society.
"Inmates transferred directly from a correctional facility to a (mental health) hospital on a non-emergency basis are entitled to the procedural steps outlined in (state correction law) even if they are nearing completion or have just completed their sentences," Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote for the court.
The ruling mirrored one from November in a similar case involving 12 other sex offenders. As it did earlier, the court sent the case back to a local court to conduct hearings. The legislative debate over civil confinement of sex predators simmered for years before the June 29, 2005, stabbing death of Russo-Carriero, a 56-year-old paralegal from White Plains, in a municipal garage next to the Galleria mall.
Paroled rapist Phillip Grant told police he killed Russo-Carriero because he was waging a race war against whites. Grant, who in 1979 raped three women during a sex-attack spree in the Bronx, was convicted of second-degree murder as a hate crime and is serving 25 years to life in prison.
In March, Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed legislation, nicknamed "Connie's Law," that allows the government to keep sex offenders locked up after completing their sentences. The multi-step process includes a mental-health evaluation, a determination by the Attorney General's Office, a jury trial to determine "mental abnormality" and a judge's decision to mandate confinement or release with intense supervision.