This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).






In re the Matter of:

Michael Dale Benson.


Filed July 1, 2003

Klaphake, Judge

 Douglas County District Court

File No. P493117


James S. Dahlquist, 270 Grain Exchange Building North, 301 Fourth Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN  55415 (for appellant Benson)


Christopher D. Karpan, Douglas County Attorney, Marcia G. Bremer, Assistant County Attorney, 305 Eighth Avenue West, Alexandria, MN  56308 (for respondent Douglas County)


            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Hudson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Michael Dale Benson challenges the district court’s denial of his petition for habeas corpus relief.[1]  In 1993, Benson was committed as a sexual psychopathic personality (SPP) after serving a 43-month sentence for one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for a rape he committed in 1989.  In this appeal,[2] Benson argues that  (1) his initial commitment is suspect and needs to be reevaluated; and (2) he is entitled to be released because the commitment order does not contain a finding that he suffers from a mental disorder in addition to having a criminal history, and is therefore unconstitutional under Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 122 S. Ct. 867 (2002).  Respondent Douglas County argues that Benson’s original commitment, which was upheld on appeal to this court, is consistent with the Crane standard.  In re Benson, No. C0-93-1357, 1993 WL 459840 (Minn. App. Nov. 9, 1993) (“Benson I”).

            Because Benson is attempting once again to raise challenges to his original commitment and because the standards applied to his original commitment meet the constitutional requirements of Crane, we affirm the district court’s denial of Benson’s petition for habeas corpus relief.


            On review, we give great weight to the district court’s findings on a petition for habeas corpus.  State ex rel. Holecek v. Ross, 472 N.W.2d 185, 186 (Minn. App. 1991).  Issues of law, however, are reviewed de novo.  Id.

            A person committed as mentally ill may test the legality of confinement by habeas corpus, but the scope of inquiry is limited.  State ex rel. Anderson v. United States Veterans Hosp., 268 Minn. 213, 217, 128 N.W.2d 710, 714 (1964).  The petitioner may question whether the committing court lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter or person, that the law under which the proceedings were taken was unconstitutional, or that the person’s current detention violates due process or other constitutional rights.  Id.


            In support of his current petition for habeas corpus relief, Benson submitted a letter from a licensed psychologist who evaluated him in May 2002 and who stated:

In considering Mr. Benson’s request to be released from the treatment facility to the community, there is no indication in his file or in his interview presentation that would indicate that he is any different than when he was committed.  He has made no attempt to engage in sex offender treatment and does not appear to have made any changes in his personality structure or behavior.


However, I would question the appropriateness of Mr. Benson’s commitment in the first place.  Mr. Benson has been convicted of one sex offense in 1989.  After this sex offense, he had three parole violations, which were all nonsexual in nature, and I am confused as to why he was committed at that time.


Benson is precluded from again challenging the propriety of his original commitment.  See Call v. Gomez, 535 N.W.2d 312, 319 (Minn. 1995) (stating that issue decided on direct appeal from original commitment cannot be reasserted).

            Habeas corpus cannot be used as a “substitute for a writ of error or appeal or as a cover for a collateral attack upon a judgment.”  State ex rel. Thomas v. Rigg, 255 Minn. 227, 234, 96 N.W.2d 252, 257 (1959) (citations omitted).  Indeed, in 1998, when this court affirmed the denial of Benson’s first habeas petition, it warned Benson that he “may not raise constitutional issues again on a different set of arguments, nor is he entitled to elaborate on arguments merely by raising the issues in a different way.”  Benson v. Doth, No. C6-98-331 (Minn. App. Aug. 3, 1998) (order op.), at 3.  Thus, even if the basis for Benson’s original commitment was weak, this issue has been repeatedly raised and rejected.  Benson is collaterally estopped from again raising a challenge to the validity of his original commitment.


            In Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 412-13, 122 S. Ct. 867, 870 (2002), the Supreme Court held that there must be proof that a person has “serious difficulty in controlling behavior” to justify civil commitment as a sex offender.  This court has held that Crane adds an affirmative duty to make a lack-of-control determination, which is already part of the Minnesota standard.  In re Civil Commitment of Ramey, 648 N.W.2d 260, 266-67 (Minn. App. 2002).  Although Ramey specifically involved a sex offender committed as a sexually dangerous person (SDP), its holding can be extended to psychopathic personality commitments.  SDP commitments differ from psychopathic personality commitments in that commitment as an SDP does not require proof that the person has an inability to control sexual impulses.  See Hince v. O’Keefe, 632 N.W.2d 577, 580-82 (Minn. 2001) (setting out history of SDP and SPP Acts).  Thus, a commitment as a psychopathic personality follows the requirements of Crane even more closely than commitment under the SDP Act.

            Benson argues that Crane mandates a change in the standard used to civilly commit persons who have perpetrated crimes involving criminal sexual conduct.  He insists that his original commitment lacks both findings and language indicating that there was ever any consideration of his ability to control his sexual impulses, which is now required by Crane.  He notes that the findings in his original commitment order merely state that he is a “very dangerous, patterned, power rapist” who presents a “classic history of progressively escalating compulsive sexual behavior.”

            Based on these and other findings, however, the committing court specifically concluded that Benson is “unable to control his impulses with regards to sexual matters.”  The committing court’s decision was fully affirmed on appeal to this court, which determined that the record supported “the district court’s findings that Benson has no control over his violent and abusive sexual impulses and is likely to reoffend and seriously harm others.”  Benson I at **2.  By determining that the evidence shows that Benson is “unable” to control or has “no control” over his sexual impulses, the committing court and this court on appeal made lack-of-control determinations required by Crane.  We therefore conclude that the standards applied to Benson’s original commitment fully meet the constitutional requirements of Crane.

            In his petition for habeas corpus relief, Benson also queries:  “How can there be a pattern when [he] is charged and convicted of a single criminal act?” and “[H]ow can behavior be escalating across a single event?”  A commitment may be supported by a “course of conduct,” which “need not consist solely of convictions, but may also include conduct amounting to harmful sexual conduct, of which the offender was not convicted.”  Ramey, 648 N.W.2d ay 268.  Here, the evidence supporting Benson’s commitment included statements by Benson that, prior to committing the 1989 crime, he had committed other rapes and assaults over a four- to five-year period, involving multiple victims.  See Benson I at **1.  This was sufficient evidence of a course of conduct so as to support an indeterminate commitment.

            In his brief on appeal, Benson suggests that his original commitment order also fails to establish that he suffered from some mental disorder, as required by Crane.  The committing court, however, found that Benson “was formally diagnosed with mixed substance abuse and mixed personality trait disturbance.”  This diagnosis is sufficient to support his commitment.  See, e.g., Ramey, 648 N.W.2d at 264 (indicating that appellant, whose commitment was affirmed, was diagnosed by examiners evaluating him for commitment petition as having alcohol and cocaine dependence and “Antisocial Personality Disorder”).

            We therefore affirm the district court’s denial of Benson’s petition for habeas corpus relief.  At this point, Benson is limited to seeking release through the administrative discharge process set out in Minn. Stat. § 253B.18 (2002).  To do so, of course, he must demonstrate that he can make an effective transition to society, that he no longer poses a danger to the community, and that further treatment and supervision is not necessary.  See In re Benson, No. CX-02-1326, 2003 WL 139397 (Minn. App. Jan. 21, 2003), at **2-4 (affirming denial of Benson’s petition for discharge where he failed to satisfy discharge criteria set forth in Minn. Stat. § 253B.18, subd. 15 (2000)).



[1]  The district court’s order also denied Benson’s petition for postconviction relief, which was based on a challenge to the validity of his original guilty plea.  On appeal, Benson does not raise this as an issue and only challenges the district court’s denial of his petition for habeas corpus relief.


[2]  This is Benson’s fifth appeal to this court.  See, e.g., In re Benson, No. CX-02-1326, 2003 WL 139397 (Minn. App. Jan. 21, 2003) (affirming denial of petition for discharge under Minn. Stat. § 253B.18 (2000)); Benson v. Doth, No. C6-98-331 (Minn. Aug. 3, 1998) (order op.) (affirming denial of petition for writ of habeas corpus because it raised challenges to original commitment); Benson v. Gomez, No. C6-96-79, 1996 WL 291552 (Minn. App. June 4, 1996) (affirming denial of discharge petition, in part because it challenged original commitment), review denied (Minn. Aug. 6, 1996); In re Benson, No. C0-93-1357, 1993 WL 459840 (Minn. App. Nov. 9, 1993) (affirming original commitment) (“Benson I”).