Kohlhepp and SVP Commitments

Todd Kohlhepp allegedly kidnapped a woman and held her captive on his 100 acre farm in Woodruff, near Spartanburg, S.C.  He subsequently confessed to a 13 year old quadruple murder in Spartanburg, and at least two more bodies have been found on his property.  When he was 15 years old, he was convicted of kidnapping in Arizona after he sexually assaulted a 14 year old girl at gunpoint.  He served 14 years in prison and has been required to register as a sex offender since his release.

Subsequent media stories have detailed Kohlhepp’s teenaged offenses, including the results of a psychiatric report from that case and the judge’s comments that Kohlhepp was not rehabilitated and the judge’s fears that the court would not be able to protect the public from him:

According to court records obtained by WSPA, Kohlhepp forced the girl into his home, tied her hands and put tape over her mouth before sexually assaulting her.

The judge in that case noted that “at the age of nine, Kohlhepp was ‘explosive’ and ‘preoccupied with sexual content.’”

“He has not changed,” the judge wrote. “He has been unabatedly aggressive to others and destructive of property since nursery school.”

A psychiatric evaluation filed with the juvenile court said that in previous instances during his childhood, Kohlhepp had shot a dog with a BB gun, used Clorox to kill a goldfish, smashed things in his room with a hammer, destroyed other children’s projects, and was dismissed from the Boy Scouts because he was too disruptive. His father said the only emotion Kohlhepp was capable of was anger, according to the report

The juvenile judge worried that the justice system had no solution for a teen like Kohlhepp.

“Twenty-five months of the most intensive and expensive professional intervention, short of God’s, will provide no protection for the public and no rehabilitation of this juvenile,” the judge wrote.

With the revelation of Kohlhepp’s prior offenses, many are wondering why he was released and how we could have prevented his recent crimes.  Arizona, like South Carolina, has a sexually violent predator (SVP) law that requires that any person convicted of a sexually violent offense must be reviewed for civil commitment proceedings before they can be released from prison.  I am not sure when Arizona’s law, ARS 36-1701, was passed, but I note that Washington passed the first such law in 1990 and Kohlhepp’s juvenile conviction was in 1987.

Under South Carolina’s SVP law, any person convicted of a sexually violent offense must be reviewed for involuntary civil commitment prior to their release from prison, and if they are found to be a sexually violent predator they can be held in a “treatment unit” at SCDC indefinitely.  Sexually violent predator means the person 1) has been convicted of a sexually violent offense; and 2) suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes them likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined.

At least 270 days prior to the person’s release, notice must be given to a multidisciplinary team that reviews the case.  That team will then refer the case to a prosecutor’s review committee, who will make a determination if there is probable cause that the person is a sexually violent predator and then bring the case before a court within 30 days for a judicial determination of probable cause.  The Court will appoint a forensic psychiatrist to evaluate the person and, if probable cause is found, the person then has the right to a trial to determine if they are, beyond a reasonable doubt, a sexually violent predator.  If they are found to be a sexually violent predator, the person is then returned to prison to the SVP unit indefinitely.

Kohlhepp may or may not have been subject to the SVP review prior to his release in Arizona.  I don’t know if he was and, if so, what the results of the evaluations and hearings were at that time.  There is, however, a system in place to keep sexual predators incarcerated indefinitely – it has been reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court and the S.C. Supreme Court and found constitutional, mainly because it is classified as a civil commitment and not criminal.  Beyond that, Kohlhepp was required under Arizona and South Carolina law to register as a sex offender.  The system may have failed Kohlhepp’s alleged victims, but there is a system in place that is, for most of the people caught in it, working as intended.

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