Involuntary Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators

In re Care & Treatment of Ellison, 384 P.3d 15 (Kan. 2016)

Supreme Court of Kansas holds that an ad hoc analysis of all of the factors resulting in a pretrial delay must be used to determine whether a defendant’s due process right to a speedy trial has been violated during proceedings for his involuntary civil commitment as a sexually violent predator.

Background: Todd Ellison was a convicted sex offender, and the state of Kansas sought to have him involuntarily committed under the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act (KSVPA). The KSVPA allows for the civil commitment of persons alleged to be sexually violent predators after the completion of their criminal sentences. A person suspected of meeting the statutory definition of a sexually violent predator is entitled to a probable cause hearing and a jury trial during which the state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. The state filed a probable cause petition against Ellison in June 2009, but his trial was delayed more than 4 years due to multiple continuances. Ellison filed a motion claiming the delay violated his due process right to a speedy trial. The district court ruled that the delay violated Ellison’s due process rights and ordered his release. The court of appeals reversed and the state supreme court granted Ellison’s petition for review to determine the appropriate standard to measure due process claims for pretrial delays in KSVPA proceedings.

Holding: The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the ad hoc analysis from Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) in which courts must weigh various factors including the length of the delay, reason for the delay, defendant’s assertion of the right, and prejudice to the defendant applies to pretrial delays in KSVPA proceedings. The court held that the district court did not err in weighing the different factors that caused the delay in Ellison’s trial under the Barker analysis and affirmed the order for his release.

Notable Points:

Barker Factors: The court of appeals reversed the ruling of the district court on the assumption that too much weight was given to the 4-year delay and other factors were not properly considered. The Kansas Supreme Court emphasized that no one factor is either necessary or sufficient in determining whether a defendant’s due process rights have been violated and that the district court had properly considered other factors in reaching its decision.
Reason for Pretrial Delay: The district court inquired into which party was responsible for the continuances that led to the delay in Ellison’s trial. The court determined that some of the continuances were attributable to Ellison and others were by agreement. When the party responsible for any delay could not be determined, the court attributed it to the state. The court considered only the delay that was attributable to the state in reaching its decision in this case.


Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 4