Under Florida law, imprisonment does not depend only on proven guilt of a crime. It can also result from the possibility of a future crime. The imprisonment can be up to life. The offender has few avenues of appeal. The case is not even public. The documents on which it is based are sealed from public view.

It is a little known but disquieting side of Florida law, permissible under the so-called Jimmy Ryce Act, which allows the “involuntary civil commitment” of sexually violent and dangerous predators even after they’ve served their sentence. They’re locked up at the Florida Civil Commitment center in Arcadia, a razor-wired, guarded state prison in all but name. It is designed for “the worst of the worst,” in the words of Brian Smith, an assistant public defender.

A jury of three men and three women took all of 20 minutes to agree with Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark, declaring Walsh a violent sexual predator and condemning him to DCF’s prison, indefinitely.

Walsh was not being re-imprisoned for a new offense, or even for the severity of any single past offence, because there is no such severity that would even qualify him as a sexual predator under criminal law. He was being kept in DCF’s prison, where he’s been for the past four years, out of fear that he may re-offend.

The state does not consider it punishment: it was a civil trial. But the state’s burden of proof was, as a result, far lower than in a criminal trial. The state did not have to prove anything beyond reasonable doubt.


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