CHEHALIS — The Attorney General’s Office filed a petition in Lewis County Superior Court seeking to civilly commit a violent sex offender and prevent his release into the community.
Dannell Harris, 50, was convicted of first-degree burglary, second-degree kidnapping and first-degree child molestation in Chehalis on Jan. 25, 1990. After serving his sentences, Harris was due to be released, but the Attorney General’s Office petitioned to have him committed as a sexually violent predator. A Lewis County judge yesterday found probable cause to detain Harris pending a trial on the State’s petition.
The civil commitment petition consists of allegations that have not yet been proven in a court of law. The State of Washington has the burden to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
Washington’s Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) law allows the state Attorney General’s Office to petition for the civil commitment of violent sex offenders who, because of a mental abnormality and/or personality disorder, are proven likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence if released.
In 1990, Washington became the first state in the nation to pass a law permitting the involuntary civil commitment of sex offenders after they serve their criminal sentences. The AGO’s SVP Unit was established shortly thereafter.
The AGO SVP unit is responsible for prosecuting sex predator cases for 38 of Washington’s 39 counties (King County being the exception). In Fiscal Year 2015, the unit tried 15 cases and won 10 civil commitments. Two trials ended in hung juries (meaning the offender remains detained pending a new trial), and three trials involved an offender who was found by the jury to not meet the criteria to be committed as a sexually violent predator.
As of July 15, 2016, 283 sexually violent predators are in the state’s Special Commitment Center Program.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov