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.
It almost all happens in secret but for the trial proceedings, which are not even announced. The courtroom is open. Anyone can attend. But neither the case number nor the name of the person on trial is publicly available. No one would know that such a trail is taking place unless there was an explicit inquiry about why the courtroom was reserved for an unidentified trial. The case number at times appears outside the courtroom door, on a list of cases to be heard that day. But even then, the public is barred from accessing the documents.
The person on trial is disappeared in other key ways, too: there is no trace of him or her either in state prison or local jail records, because the person is under the authority of the Department of Children and Families. Even the guards surveilling the defendant in court are DCF’s, not the Sheriff’s Office’s usual court personnel.