Saturday, November 9, 2002

Court clarifies sex offender assessment

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Sex offenders must have a chance to challenge the classification that determines how much supervision they have after release, even if it means hiring expert witnesses, the Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

A series of court cases recently have set some of the boundaries for registering and even holding sex offenders after they have served their prison sentences. Kentucky has followed other states by requiring sex offenders to register with law enforcement authorities after their release from incarceration.

According to Kentucky State Police records, there are 3,169 sex offenders registered.

Darrell Kanatzer pleaded guilty to rape and other charges in March 1995 and was sentenced to five years in prison.

When his release from prison was pending in late 1999, the Department of Corrections notified the Fayette County Circuit Court and requested an order for a sex-offender risk assessment.

A hearing was set for the assessment, at which time a state certified psychologist said Mr. Kanatzer was a high-risk offender.

Mr. Kanatzer, who was indigent, was denied the chance to hire his own expert witness at state expense.

"In effect, the trial court denied Kanatzer a meaningful hearing in which to present his position," Judge Daniel Guidugli said in the unanimous opinion.

The due process that must be given sex offenders at the risk assessment hearing includes the ability to challenge the author of the assessment as well as a chance to hire expert witnesses to rebut the state's expert.

Those rights "are meaningless" unless an indigent is provided the funds to hire an expert, Judge Guidugli said.

The court revoked the assessment for Mr. Kanatzer and ordered a new hearing.

In a separate decision, the court said the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government properly condemned a historic theater so it could obtain title to the property for renovation.

The condemnation proceeding was challenged by God's Center Foundation Inc., a charitable organization that owned the building, but which turned down the government's offer to buy the property.

The Lyric Theater opened in 1948 and became "the primary entertainment venue" for blacks in what was then a largely segregated city.

The city wants to acquire the property and restore it for use as a cultural center in what is still a minority area.

The owner said it wanted to retain the property, but would let the city use it periodically.

The unanimous ruling said the city was justified in using its power of eminent domain to take control of the theater for a public use.

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