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Specht v. Patterson - 386 U.S. 605, 87 S. Ct. 1209 (1967)

Rule:

Under Colorado's criminal procedure, the invocation of the Sex Offenders Act, Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 39-19-1 to 10 (1963) means the making of a new charge leading to criminal punishment. This presents cases that are not unlike those under recidivist statutes where an habitual criminal issue is a distinct issue on which a defendant must receive reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard. Due process, in other words, requires that defendants being sentenced under the Sex Offenders Act be present with counsel, have an opportunity to be heard, be confronted with witnesses against them, have the right to cross-examine, and to offer evidence of their own. And there must be findings adequate to make meaningful any appeals that are allowed. 

Facts:

After Specht was convicted in a Colorado state court of a sex offense for which a maximum sentence of 10 years could be imposed, the trial judge, acting pursuant to the Colorado Sex Offenders' Act, had Specht examined by psychiatrists, received a psychiatric report, granted Specht no hearing or right of confrontation, determined that Specht constituted a threat of bodily harm to members of the public or was a habitual offender and mentally ill, and sentenced Specht to an indeterminate term from 1 day to life. Specht challenged the constitutionality of the procedure for imposing the indeterminate sentence, on the ground that the denial of a hearing and right of confrontation constituted a violation of due process, but Specht was unsuccessful in both state court habeas corpus proceedings and on a motion to set aside the judgment before the Colorado Supreme Court. The dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus in the Federal District Court was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Issue:

Was the Colorado Sex Offenders Act violative of Specht’s due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

Under the state criminal procedure, the invocation of the Sex Offenders Act meant the making of a new charge that led to criminal punishment. Thus, due process required that Specht be present with counsel, have an opportunity to be heard, be confronted with witnesses against him, have the right to cross-examine, and to offer evidence of his own. None of these procedural safeguards were present under the Sex Offenders Act. Thus, the Act was deficient in due process as measured by the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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