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A dangerous offender is an offender who has committed a crime determined to have caused serious personal injury. Criminals who are labeled as dangerous offenders are subject to harsher sentencing and stricter supervision than average criminals are. Depending on the jurisdiction of the offender, a dangerous offender is subject to additional supervision after prison, longer prison sentences, dangerous offender registration and even indeterminate prison sentences.
In the United States, dangerous offender legislation has been touted as unconstitutional. For this reason, indeterminate sentences — those of no specific length but merely minimum and maximum periods of time — are not allowed. Contrary to this legal stance, however, laws requiring sexual offenders to be classified and registered have been upheld as constitutional, despite critics' protests.
Laws such as the popular "Megan's Law" require sex offenders to be registered and monitored and notification to be sent to any potential new neighbors warning that a sex offender is moving into the area. Limitations are placed on where the offender may live, work and recreate. Those against these laws argue that they serve as an extension of punishment, set up offenders for failure within any community and are not cost effective. Advocates argue that knowing who sexual predators are and what they look like gives other people a better opportunity to keep their children safe.
In Canada and England, dangerous offenders might actually face an indeterminate sentence. The Canadian government submits that certain criminals pose a significant danger to the public. This designation is sought by application from the Crown Prosecutor, and if granted, carries an automatic indeterminate sentence with no review for parole for seven years. Crimes that fit the criteria to seek dangerous offender status include specific sexual assault offenses, particularly violent offenses, or potentially violent crimes that carry a potential maximum sentence of 10 years or more. In Denmark, such a designation and sentence usually are reserved for repeat sexual offenders or very violent offenders whose crimes otherwise would not merit a life sentence.
Many who oppose indeterminate sentencing for the dangerous offender say that this type of punishment is a violation of human rights. Opponents claim that these governments are predicting and punishing a crime that has yet to be committed. In some countries, there has been a trend to impose a reverse onus system — to place the burden of proof on the accused to prove that they do not deserve the designation, as opposed to the government's burden to prove that they do. Human rights activists warn that this is a dangerous trend that could damage the existing systems of basic rights in these nations. These activists posit that protecting the rights of the accused while protecting the welfare of the public has proven to be a difficult balancing act.
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