Kansas v. Crane

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Kansas v. Crane is a 2002 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, in which the Court ruled that the law the state of Kansas could not apply its Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act based purely on assessment of an emotional disorder, but was required to prove a likelihood of uncontrollable impulse presenting a clear and present danger. [1] Specifically, it vacated the State Supreme Court's reversal of the trial court decision. The Court was troubled by this ruling, as it "less than five years ago, we upheld the very same statute against the very same contention in an appeal by the very same petitioner (the State of Kansas) from the judgment of the very same court."

The case has broader significance because medical detention is still a form of extrajudicial detention in the U.S., and forms part of the body of case law related to all extrajudicial detention, including detention for suspected terrorist activity. It also affects the matter of medicalizing sexual offenses.

In the majority opinion, Breyer pointed out , there may be “considerable overlap between a … defective understanding or appreciation and … [an] ability to control … behavior.” [2] Prviously, the Supreme Courth and not distinguished among "volitional, emotional, and cognitive impairments. [3] The Court, in in Hendricks had no occasion to consider whether confinement based solely on “emotional” abnormality would be constitutional,

Breyer scolded the state court:

The State of Kansas, unable to apply its legislature’s sexual predator legislation as written because of the Kansas Supreme Court’s erroneous view of the Federal Constitution, sought and received certiorari in Hendricks, and achieved a reversal, in an opinion holding that “the Kansas Sexually Violent Predator Act comports with [substantive] due process requirements” . The Kansas Supreme Court still did not like the law and prevented its operation, on substantive due process grounds, once again. The State of Kansas again sought certiorari, asking nothing more than reaffirmation of our 5-year-old opinion–only to be told that what we said then we now unsay. There is an obvious lesson here for state supreme courts that do not agree with our jurisprudence: ignoring it is worth a try.

In their minority opinion, Justices Scalia and Thomas said the opinion was "wrong" and dangerous, “wrong” and indicated that the court in promulgating its opinion, it is “snatching back from the State of Kansas a victory so recently awarded cheapens the currency of our judgments.”

Arrest and trial

In 1993, Michael T. Crane was arrested for both lewd and lascivious behavior and aggravated sexual battery, and pleaded guilty to both. After the plea, Kansas filed a state petition for the State District Court to evaluate Crane, and, if supported by evaluation, be adjudicated a sexual predator under the SVPA. That Act permits the civil detention of a person convicted of any of several enumerated sexual offenses, if it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he suffers from a

“mental abnormality”–a disorder affecting his “emotional or volitional capacity which predisposes the person to commit sexually violent offenses”–or a “personality disorder,” either of “which makes the person likely to engage in repeat acts of sexual violence.” [4]

The mental health specialists who examined Crane diagnosed exhibitionism and antisocial personality disorder. Though exhibitionism alone would not support classification as a sexual predator, a psychologist concluded that the two in combination did place the respondent’s condition within the range of disorders covered by the SVPA,

cit[ing] the increasing frequency of incidents involving [respondent], increasing intensity of the incidents, [respondent’s] increasing disregard for the rights of others, and his increasing daring and aggressiveness.

Other examiners agreed that Crane was disturbed and had poor impulse control. The expert consensus, however, was that

“[r]espondent’s mental disorder does not impair his volitional control to the degree he cannot control his dangerous behavior.” [5]

In defense, Crane argued that due process demanded the state prove not merely what the statute requires — that by reason of his mental disorder he is “likely to engage in repeat acts of sexual violence” — "but also that he is unable to control his violent behavior." This was rejected by the state court, which instructed the jury to find him to be a predator.

Defendant's state-level appeal

Based on the U.S. Supreme Court case of Kansas v. Hendricks (1997), trial court was reversed by the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled the SVPA unconstitutional if it was as to a person who has only an "emotional or personality disorder within the meaning of the Act, rather than a volitional impairment." It required the State "must show not merely a likelihood that the defendant would engage in repeat acts of sexual violence, but also an inability to control violent behavior.".

SCOTUS had upheld Hendricks: “The Kansas Act is plainly of a kind with these other civil commitment statutes [that we have approved]: It requires a finding of future dangerousness [viz., that the person committed is “likely to engage in repeat acts of sexual violence”], and then links that finding to the existence of a ‘mental abnormality’ or ‘personality disorder’ that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the person to control his dangerous behavior. [6] (emphasis added)

SCOTUS determination

In a majority opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court pointed to the requirement, italicized in Hendricks, of " establishing the requirement of a separate finding of inability to control behavior." They held it impermissible, because:

  1. First, because the authority cited , by the Kansas Statutes Annotated contains no requirement of inability to control.
  2. It found that the the SVPA’s required finding of a causal connection between the likelihood of repeat acts of sexual violence and the existence of a “mental abnormality” or “personality disorder” necessarily establishes “difficulty if not impossibility” in controlling behavior.
  3. This is clearly confirmed by the very next sentence of the opinion, which reads as follows: “The precommitment requirement of a ‘mental abnormality’ or ‘personality disorder’ is consistent with the requirements of … other statutes that we have upheld in that it narrows the class of persons eligible for confinement to those whho are unable to control their dangerousness.”

As read in the current case, the majority saw no jury determination, as reinstated in Hendricks, of a separate finding of “difficulty, if not impossibility, to control behavior.” To apply the SVPA, finding of mental abnormality must be coupled with a finding of future dangerousness. Language of the current case is inconsistent with the Court's decision in Hendricks, in which “we have never required state legislatures to adopt any particular nomenclature in drafting civil commitment statutes. Rather, we have traditionally left to legislators the task of defining terms of a medical nature that have legal significance.”


  1. Kansas v. Crane,  534 U.S. Stephen Breyer, 407 (Supreme Court of the United States June 28, 2004), 507
  2. American Psychiatric Association Statement on the Insanity Defense, 140 Am. J. Psychiatry 681, 685 (1983) (discussing “psychotic” individuals)
  3. Jones v. United States, 463 U.S. 354 (1983); Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418 (1979)
  4. Kan. Stat. Ann. §§59—29a02(a), (b) (2000 Cum. Supp.)
  5. In re Crane, at 581, 7 P.3d, at 288
  6. Kan. Stat. Ann. §59—29a02(b) (1994).” Id., at 358