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Sexually Dangerous Convicts Can be Held Indefinitely
Posted by: Thomas Grajek  | On 23rd January, 2015

The government now has more power and discretion in holding sexually dangerous convicts.

At one time, once a sexually dangerous inmate served a full sentence, he or she was released. The U.S. Supreme Court has now indicated this may no longer be the case when it comes to sexually dangerous convicts.

How is a convict classified as being sexually dangerous? There are two conditions that an inmate must meet prior to receiving this classification. In the first, a court must see clear evidence and convincing proof that the convict would not be able to stop molesting children or cease sexually violent conduct, should release occur. The second condition is that neither the state in which the convict is incarcerated nor the state where a trial was held, should they be differing locations, wish to accept custody of the offender.

Former President George W. Bush first granted the legal authority to hold convicted sexually dangerous offenders indefinitely in 2006 under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (2006). When the act first came into being, four inmates, who had served their sentences, filed a legal challenge stating they had the right to release from prison after their sentences were served. Prison officials did not let them out because they were viewed as being at high risk to re-offend.
The first court of appeal initially found in favor of the inmates and decided that Congress had gone too far in mandating that sexually dangerous prisoners remain in jail once sentences were completed. On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-to-2 decision, the court reversed the initial ruling in United States v. Comstock.

Was the government overstepping its constitutional boundaries or does government have the power to hold this class of offenders indefinitely? The ratio decidendi indicated the government does indeed have the right to indefinitely detain this class of offenders.

This is an important case to note, as it addresses a legal concept referred to as federalism – a safeguard against the government overstepping its authority. In theory, the federal government may only act if it has been given the power to do so by the Constitution, and the Constitution does not expressly state that Congress has the power to indefinitely hold such prisoners. In other words, the Supreme Court decision expanded the government’s power to encompass such indefinite detainment, which may pose some decidedly delicate legal questions in the future.

Tags: custody evidence Former President George Supreme Court United States


Jan 2015


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