Britain Refuses to Extradite U.S. Sex Crimes Suspect on Human Rights Grounds

An American wanted for alleged sex-crime offenses won't be extradited from the U.K. after a court ruled that a Minnesota sex-offender treatment program would violate his human rights.

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Shawn Sullivan
Interpol / AP

This undated photo provided by Interpol shows Shawn Sullivan. Britain's High Court on Thursday, June 28, 2012, blocked a U.S. government bid to extradite Sullivan to Minnesota, saying the state's restrictive treatment program for sex offenders was far too draconian. Sullivan, a dual U.S.-Irish citizen, is accused of raping a 14-year-old girl and sexually molesting two 11-year-olds in Minnesota in the 1990s.

Julian Assange’s extradition case isn’t the only one generating headlines—and outrage—in the U.K.: On Thursday, the British High Court blocked an attempt by the U.S. government to extradite an American citizen wanted in Minnesota for alleged child sex crimes. The reason? The court ruled that if Shawn Sullivan were to be committed to Minnesota’s controversial sex offender treatment program, it would represent a “flagrant denial” of his human rights.

The 43-year-old Sullivan, described by the media in the U.K. and Ireland as “one of America’s most-wanted pedophiles,” is accused of raping a 14-year-old girl and sexually molesting two 11-year-olds in Minnesota in the 1990s. As prosecutors were preparing to file charges against him, Sullivan fled to Ireland where he holds dual citizenship. While there, he was convicted of sexually assaulting two 12-year-old Irish girls, and received a suspended sentence.

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He later moved to London on his Irish passport and was arrested two years ago. He married his girlfriend, a U.K. Ministry of Justice official, while being held in London’s Wandsworth Prison. He was eventually released on bail, though he had to wear an electronic device.

The U.S. was understandably irked by the High Court ruling. “We strongly disagree with the decision of the court that he should not be extradited to face trial in the U.S,” said a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, according to the Telegraph. An attorney representing the alleged victims in Minnesota said the only recourse left to them was a lawsuit in U.S. civil court.

At issue for the High Court was the Minnesota sex offender treatment program, which is considered one of the harshest in the U.S. If a judge decides that a person is sexually dangerous or sexually psychopathic, he or she can be incarcerated at one of the program’s treatment facilities indefinitely — regardless of how long ago the offenses were committed or even if the individual was convicted of a crime. Since the program was launched in 1988, only two people have reportedly been released. There are currently more than 600 people in the program.

In the court’s ruling, the U.K. justices were unflagging in their criticism. “Civil commitment is unknown to European law, but is a process available in 20 states in the United States. Minnesota’s law is said to be more draconian than many others,” Lord Justice Alan Moses wrote. The other judge on the panel, David Eady, concurred, saying “there is a more than fanciful risk that the appellant would become subject to the civil commitment process.”

(MORE: Why Is Ecuador Julian Assange’s Choice for Asylum?)

Meanwhile, as Sullivan goes free, the Assange drama continues to play out at the Ecuadorean embassy across town. The divisive Wikileaks founder, wanted for questioning in Sweden about sex-crime allegations, has been ordered to leave the embassy and report to a London police station as part of his extradition process.

Assange, however, remains defiant. Asked by the BBC whether he’ll obey the order as he awaits Ecuador’s decision over whether to grant him political asylum, he responded: “Our advice is that asylum law both internationally and domestically in the UK takes precedence to extradition law, so the answer is almost certainly not.”