Appeals court: Minnesota sex offender program constitutional

The attorney who took the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to court in 2015 and won said he “didn’t expect it to be this defeating,” learning that a federal appeals court overturned his victory.

Dan Gustafson, a Minneapolis attorney who represented the more than 700 civilly committed Minnesotans by challenging the constitutionality of the state program said he’s very disappointed.
“I don’t think justice was done today. And so, you know, we fight on,” he said.

He will decide in the next few weeks if that fight will be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The MSOP, as it’s known, began in 1994. Only one offender has been fully released, and that was last fall. Several more have been conditionally released. By those numbers, it is the strictest sex offender program in the nation.

In 2015, after Gustafson challenged the program in federal court, Judge Donovan Frank ruled the program unconstitutional and ordered sweeping changes, but those changes were put on hold while the state took the case to appeal.

By overturning the ruling, the appellate court not only tossed out the earlier decision, but declared Minnesota’s program to be constitutional.
Even though he’s upset his victory is now overturned, Gustafson feels his battle has made a difference.

‘I don’t think there’s any doubt that the lawsuit has had an effect on the operation of the MSOP and on the public’s perception,” he told us. “I think some good has come out of it. I think some good changes at MSOP have occurred, but I don’t think they’ve made enough progress yet.”

Governor Mark Dayton is one of those who agrees with both the ruling and with Gustafson, applauding the declaration that the program is legal while calling for changes.

“I’m very glad that we received that ruling,” Dayton told reporters, “but that doesn’t mean we go back to locking up offenders for lifetimes.”   He noted that changes are being made and said he’s glad the state won’t be forced to rush releasing offenders and can instead look at changes very carefully and cautiously.

“These are people who are still at a very significant risk to the general public, and we need to be very careful about how they’re reintroduced back to society, about the protections that law-abiding citizens have as they’re walking down the streets and going about their business. God forbid that we should have an occurrence that is catastrophic.”