Rick v. Harpstead, No. 19-CV-2827 (D. Minn. 2023)
Nature of Case: In what the parties agree was a very close case, a Minnesota court civilly committed Petitioner Darrin Scott Rick as a “sexually dangerous person” in 2004. He has been a patient of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”) ever since. In 2019, Petitioner petitioned for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. Section 2254, seeking his release from custody based on newly discovered evidence. After holding an evidentiary hearing on the petition, a magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the Court grant the petition. That recommendation was primarily based on new evidence showing that the risk of recidivism was much lower than previously understood.
Critically, at the time of Petitioner’s commitment in 2004, the DOC used an actuarial sexual-recidivism risk-assessment tool called the Minnesota Sex Offender Risk Assessment Tool-Revised (“MnSOST-R”). MnSOST-R predicted that low-risk offenders had a six-year recidivism rate of 12% and moderate-risk offenders had a six-year recidivism rate of 25%. In 2012, new data changed those predictions significantly. Research on Minnesota sex offenders released from the DOC between 2003 and 2006 concluded that the recidivism rate for low-risk offenders was 3% (not 12%), and that the recidivism rate for moderate-risk offenders was 6% (not 25%).
Further, based on new science around “risk”, two court appointed examiners who testified at Petitioner’s initial commitment proceeding recanted their opinions that Petitioner met the criteria for commitment at the time of his commitment and now conclude that he did not meet the criteria.
Holding: In light of this new evidence, the Minnesota District Court accepted the magistrate’s report and granted Petitioner’s habeas petition. The Court concluded that it is more likely than not that, considering the new reliable evidence that no reasonable jurist would have found by clear and convincing evidence that Petitioner met the standard for commitment and that Petitioner has shown that the alleged improprieties were so egregious that they fatally infected his commitment proceeding and rendered the proceeding fundamentally unfair.
The state has appealed this decision to the Eighth Circuit where it is currently pending.