February 14, 2012

Bill to commit sex offenders who are incompetent for trial passes to Senate

2-14-2012 Utah:

Sex offenders who are too mentally ill to stand trial could be forcibly committed to mental hospitals under a bill that passed out of a state Senate committee Monday.

The full Senate now will consider HB14, proposed by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, in response to the case of Lonnie Johnson, a previously-convicted sex offender who faces 20 new child sex abuse counts. Johnson was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial and was released in April. Fourth District Court Judge James Taylor ruled he could not be placed in a mental institution because state law only allows for involuntary commitments of patients who are considered physically violent; Johnson, Taylor held, was sexually violent but not physically violent.

The bill passed 4-2 out of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee over objections that the changes would force local governments to pay for the care of more mental patients.

“I’m concerned about the expense we’re asking local governments to bear, as ... we don’t allocate resources, financially, for it,” said Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City.

Some mental health patients have objected to the bill, arguing that sex offenders could threaten other patients and stigmatize mental illness. But supporters of the bill said it only narrowly expands the population eligible for commitment and makes it no riskier than existing provisions for violent patients.

“There ... has to be a mental illness, and the mental illness has to be linked to the sexual misconduct,” Daw said. “The fact that there was a sexually inappropriate act is not anywhere near, in and of itself, enough.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for further debate.

Meanwhile, Johnson is scheduled for another competency hearing in April. ..Source.. by Erin Alberty

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