State Supreme Court To Consider Extended Confinement For Sex Offenders


The state Supreme Court is considering a case that could limit the ability of prosecutors to use Wisconsin’s sex predator law to lock up sex offenders for longer than their original sentence.

Joseph Spaeth was convicted of first degree sexual assault of a child in 1992. He served time in prison and was released on parole. In 2006, the parole was revoked because he told his parole agent he had touched his nieces and nephews in a sexual way. He was convicted of four counts of fourth-degree sexual assault of a child.

The state Supreme Court overturned that conviction in 2009, however, because his confession was coerced.

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Now the state is seeking to commit Spaeth to the Sand Ridge treatment center as a sexually violent person, based on his 1992 conviction.

Spaeth’s lawyer, Shelly Fite, told the court this week that the civil commitment law known as “Chapter 980” doesn’t apply in this case, because a petition for commitment has to be filed before an offender is released from prison. “If he doesn’t come within 980, then he gets to enjoy the freedom that anyone enjoys when they reach the end of their sentence,” Fite said.

The prosecutor for the state, Warren Weinstein, says despite his conviction being overturned, Spaeth did confess to committing a crime that falls under the sexual predator statute.

“The purpose of this statute isn’t to punish him for the crime,” Weinstein said. “It’s to segregate him from society and treat his underlying mental disorder.”

A decision in this case could clarify under what circumstances the state can use Chapter 980 to confine sex offenders for treatment after they’ve already served time for their crimes.