Morel v. Wilkins Deters State from Long Pre-Trial Detainment in Florida Criminal Cases

Our society is one that prides itself on rehabilitation. We always believe that people make mistakes and deserve a second chance. The law here in Florida does provide some safeguards to help give people an opportunity to get the mental health treatment they need in relation to their Florida criminal law cases.
Morel v. Wilkins is a Florida criminal case that addresses the constitutional rights of criminally convicted detainees. This case arose where a man who had committed sexually violent acts was place in the care of the state for purposes of rehabilitation.

The issue that the Florida Supreme Court was charged with was to determine whether the delay in the commitment trial of the defendant and his detention could be classified as a constitutional violation. In this case a commitment trial refers to the judicial proceedings surrounding the reasonable cause grounds for which the state is seeking to confine the detainee in jail or a mental institution.

In 1996 Morel was found guilty of sexually violent acts and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. During this trial Morel was classified as a violent predator and therefore subject to the Jimmy Ryce Act. Because of the application of this statute, Morel was sent to Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC) where he was considered a pre-trial detainee. The judge had not ruled regarding commitment of this defendant which made him ineligible for the sexual offender treatment program (SOTP).

Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators’ Treatment and Care Act (Jimmy Rice Act) is a Florida statute passed in order to manage and rehabilitate inmates who have been convicted of sexual offenses. These offenders are kept at FCC where they are provided with long term sex offender and psychiatric treatment. These inmates are held until they can be safely re-entered into their communities. Technically, the application of this statute in Florida is similar to a judicial commitment.

This Jimmy Ryce Act provides for several agencies within the state of Florida to determine the level of risk involved in the release of the offender. Before release, these inmates are assessed by several mental health professionals and a multidisciplinary team to determine if they have been rehabilitated. Only upon Court Order finding the violent offenders rehabilitated, will these inmates be release.

Sexual offender treatment program (STOP) is a program used to help sexual offenders seek therapy and reintroduce themselves to society. STOP is only available to those who have a commitment order already on file. The main focus of this program is to provide individual and family therapy to these offenders and a structured treatment plan integrating them back into their family.

After seven years at FCC, Morel filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking full access to the comprehensive SOTP. A writ of habeas corpus is a mandate filed by a prisoner to determine whether they have been lawfully imprisoned and whether that prisoner is entitled to release from custody. Because Morel was still awaiting his civil commitment trial, he did not have access to the STOP.

Morel argued that this denial was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection rights. He also argued that the amount of time that these offenders had to wait for treatment through the SOTP was too long and therefore constitutionally defective. And lastly, his confinement was illegal because of the eight years he spent as a pre-trial detainee waiting for his civil commitment trial.

Although the Court warns against the risks of prolonged pretrial delays, they found in favor of the state in this very telling decision. Because Morel is the main reason behind his need for treatment from FCC, and because he is the sole determining factor in whether he is released, there has been no violation of his constitutional rights. Basically the court said, the state did not err in maintaining his status as a pretrial detainee, although eight years is not preferred. Because of this status, Morell is validly not entitled to SOTP.

Criminal defense is very complex. Morel brought this action without consultation with an attorney. Making the mistake of managing your own defense can be the difference between freedom and imprisonment. Our South Florida criminal attorneys understand this and are here to fight for you.

If you are arrested in South Florida, contact criminal law attorneys at Leifert & Leifert. Call 954-523-9600 or 561-988-8000 for a free consultation.

Additional Resources:

Morel v. Wilkins, No. SC10-2293 (Fla. Mar. 8, 2012).

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