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Criminals that the state wants to confine civilly as sexually violent predators must be treated better than criminal inmates while they are kept at county jails, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. Jones v. Blanas, No. 04 C.D.O.S. 11294. A unanimous panel decided on behalf of Oscar Jones, who had filed a pro se federal civil rights lawsuit against Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas. The decision did not get into the merits of his complaints; that will be up to the district court on remand. However, the 9th Circuit panel tried to define the conditions under which sexually violent predators can be detained. Under California law, counties can hold convicted sex offenders for up to two years after completion of their sentences. Just before the prison term is up, prosecutors can begin a civil process to have the defendant sent to a state hospital. While awaiting his hospital hearing, Jones was kept in the general population at Sacramento County Jail. The panel said that the jail conditions, if accurately described by Jones, were “punitive” and not appropriate. “At a bare minimum, then, an individual detained under civil process . . . cannot be subjected to conditions that ‘amount to punishment,’ ” wrote Senior Judge Betty Fletcher. She was joined by Judge Sidney Thomas and Senior Judge John Noonan. Jones was represented by Darrell Fruth of San Francisco’s Farella Braun + Martel, who was appointed to the case through the 9th Circuit’s pro bono program. The sheriff, disputing Jones’ account of jail conditions, was represented by David Melton of Sacramento’s Porter, Scott, Weiberg & Delehant. Jones alleges that while in jail he was subjected to “numerous” body cavity searches, including some in the presence of female deputies, denied full use of the law library and stripped of all recreational privileges. He was kept in jail for two years until, following a jury trial, he was committed to Atascadero State Hospital. Jones’ lawsuit was tossed by former Chief Judge William Shubb of California’s eastern district on a summary judgment motion filed by the sheriff. The panel criticized the handling of deadlines and discovery matters by Shubb and Magistrate Judge John Moulds. The judges should have cut the defendant some slack because of his pro se status and his restricted law library and mail privileges, both in jail and at Atascadero, according to the opinion. The district court also applied the wrong amendment to Jones’ claims. “Though it purported to analyze Jones’ conditions of confinement claim under the Fourteenth Amendment, the district court actually applied the standards that govern a claim of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment,” according to the opinion.

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