Preventive Detention of Sex Offenders: The American Experience versus International Human Rights Norms


  • Eric S. Janus J.D.

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    • President Dean of William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, MN, U.S.A
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    • The author served as co-counsel in extended litigation challenging Minnesota's Sexually Dangerous Persons Act during the period 1992–2002. He served as an expert witness and a consultant to the attorneys for Sullivan in the UK case of Sullivan v. United States, which is discussed herein. The views expressed herein are the author's alone, and do not represent the views of William Mitchell College of Law.

Correspondence to: Eric S. Janus, J.D., President and Dean of William Mitchell College of Law, 875 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105, U.S.A. E-mail:


Nearly two decades after the birth of American Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) laws and the tolerant review of their legitimacy by American courts, European courts and international bodies are beginning to develop a jurisprudence of their own with regard to preventive detention. Applying international human rights norms, these bodies have been significantly less tolerant of preventive detention, looking not only at their design but also at their implementation. Simultaneously, American courts are showing the beginnings of a second look at SVP laws, inspired and informed not by promises about the future implementation of newly passed SVP laws, but rather by the sorry record of two decades of implementation. This article examines an American SVP scheme as it has been implemented over 20 years, contrasts the international perspective, and offers some speculation about the path of reform for American SVP schemes. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.