Under normal circumstances, an inmate is released upon completion of his/her prison sentence, however, the case is different if the inmate is “sexually dangerous”. They can be held indefinitely, which allows the government a lot more discretion and power than they previously had.

The Decision

A decision was made recently by the United States Supreme Court on an important case that has to do with the constitution and a sexually dangerous criminal. 7 of the 9 judges voted in favor of the decision to hold sexually dangerous inmates indefinitely after their sentence. Comstock took the issue head on and challenged the decision based on the rights of the government, and if they had the right to indefinitely hold people beyond the provision of the constitution.

The Act

President Bush passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (Act) in 2006. It is this Act that made it legal for prisoners considered to be sexually dangerous prisoners to be held indefinitely, even after they complete their time.

The law was challenged shortly after it was passed by 4 prisoners who have already served their time. They were sentenced for sex related crimes such as abusing minors, or possession of child pornography.

They have been held for years after their prison sentence elapsed, however, the prison officials fear they would continue to commit sexual violence, like molesting children.

A court of appeals in Richmond, Virginia agreed with the convict, and stated that congress had overstepped its authority, however, this ruling was overruled by the supreme court and the law was upheld.

Indefinitely Holding Sexually Dangerous Convicts

As stated earlier, the act permits officials to hold prisoners beyond their sentence if the prisoners were deemed “sexually dangerous. However, 2 conditions must be met before they can be deemed “sexually dangerous”. They are:

  • First, a clear and convincing proof must be provided to the court to show that the prisoner has some sort of mental problem that would make it almost impossible for such person to restrain from molesting kids or performing other sexually violent act if they are released.
  • Secondly, if both the state where the prisoner was held or the state where he/she was tried (if different) doesn’t want to accept responsibility for the prisoner if released.

The Arguments

Elena Kagan argued this case on the government’s behalf after she was nominated to replace the retiring  Justice John Paul Stevens. She likened the case to the governments right to quarantine inmates with extremely dangerous disease, and went ahead to state that as long as it is for the benefit and safety of the public, that the government was justified in taking such measures.

On the other hand, the argument that the congress had overstepped the powers they had as provided for by the constitution and that it could only pass laws that the constitutions gives them the right to. The argument was on the premise that the constitution didn’t give the congress powers to hold inmates beyond their sentence, and as such the premise on which the law was passed was completely unfounded since the constitution made no such provision.

Significance of this Case

The case sheds more light on the legal concept of federalism and the power of government to act. Normally, the federal government or any entity for that matter can only act on the provisions made by the constitution. This was a deliberate act by the founding fathers to ensure that government doesn’t overstep their authority.

The fact that the constitution doesn’t give the government the right to indefinitely hold inmates, it is seen as a step that could have ripple effects and give the government the platform to expand their powers beyond the provisions of the constitution.

 

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can this law be applied to other crimes?
  • How can we be sure the government doesn’t go further to apply this law to lesser crimes such as shoplifting?
  • Are the prisoners allowed to appeal the decision of the Supreme Court?

If you have any questions, or would like legal advice, do not hesitate to call us at 615-425-4400

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