Herrera: Sexual predator law reaffirmed by U.S. Supreme Court

February 23, 2001
Santa Paula News

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 last month that sexually violent predators can be locked up indefinitely, and have no right to challenge forced confinement by claiming double punishment, slamming the door on a former Santa Paulan's challenge to the law.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesThe U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 last month that sexually violent predators can be locked up indefinitely, and have no right to challenge forced confinement by claiming double punishment, slamming the door on a former Santa Paulan's challenge to the law.Now, a third trial will proceed for Ronald Steven Herrera, 55, who in November was sent back to a state mental hospital to await another hearing. The decision by Retired Superior Court Judge Allan Steele - that Herrera is likely to rape again and should stay in custody while awaiting his third trial - came after two days of testimony by mental health experts that Herrera meets the definition of a violent sexual predator and should not be released.Herrera was the first state parolee to be held under the 1996 law that allows sexual predators to be held in mental institutions after they have served their prison sentences. Under the law, such offenders are entitled too hearings every two years, at which time prosecutors must prove that the offenders meet state mandated criteria that shows they continue to pose a danger to the community.Herrera and an accomplice raped a woman and sexually assaulted her teenage daughter during a home-invasion robbery in a Ventura Pierpont area vacation home in 1971, also terrorizing two other vacationing families for more than 24 hours.
A week after Herrera was convicted he escaped from jail and fled to Virginia, where he later served a 13-year sentence for attempted murder. He was arrested again on the charges in California upon his release.After eight years in prison on the Ventura rape convictions, Herrera was to be paroled in 1996 but prosecutors had him held under the then-3-month-old law that allows sex predators to be held for treatment at mental hospitals.Herrera fought for his release in 1996 and 1998, but both times his lawyers failed to persuade juries that he is no longer a threat. Herrera’s lawyers also cited legal challenges to the law, which has been targeted for lawsuits in other states where it was adopted.For a 1996 Kansas challenge to the law, Supreme Court Justices upheld the it on a 5-4 vote, noting that the forced confinement could be considered more a “civil” detention rather than criminal punishment; but a loophole - based on the effectiveness of state treatment programs for predators - remained. On January 17 of this year, the court closed off that appeal with the new ruling.Herrera will again go on trial within months, according to a District Attorney's spokesman.



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