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Behavior doesn’t meet civil-commitment criteria

Despite fetish, Rochester man avoided interacting with his burglary victims

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

In a ruling that could clarify some of the elements of Minnesota’s sexually dangerous person law, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld an Olmsted District Court order dismissing the civil commitment petition of a Rochester man never convicted of a sex offense.

Appeals court judges Tuesday said Olmsted District Judge Joseph Wieners did not err earlier this year, when he dismissed the county’s petition seeking the indefinite civil commitment of Joshua Phillip Ellringer, 26, as a sexually dangerous person.

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In February, Wieners ruled that Ellringer didn’t meet the requirement for civil commitment, saying Ellringer’s behavior of breaking into residences and taking female undergarments was distinguishable from other nonviolent, but sexually harmful, behavior because it failed to involve or be directed at another person. Ellringer never has been convicted of a sex crime.

One of those issues was whether someone never convicted of sexual misconduct meets the criteria for indefinite civil commitment as a sexually dangerous person or sexual psychopathic personality.

The Olmsted County attorney’s office appealed Wieners’ ruling, arguing that the judge had erred; that Ellringer’s behavior satisfied the statutory standard for "harmful sexual conduct," as required, and that Ellringer was "highly likely" to engage in future acts of harmful sexual conduct.

In their decision, the appellate judges pointed to trial evidence that although Ellringer’s behavior was motivated by a sexual fetish, it wasn’t outwardly directed at another person. Ellringer went to great lengths to avoid interacting with his burglary victims.

This is one of three local cases involving challenges to state laws and local rulings involving the indefinite civil commitment of sex offenders.

A version of this story appeared Tuesday in some editions of the Post-Bulletin.

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