Supreme Court Upholds Imprisonment of Sex Offenders after Sentences Served

Monday, May 24, 2010
(graphic: ACLU)

Sexually-violent predators can remain held in prison after serving their sentences if the government provides “clear and convincing” evidence that the individuals remain a threat to society, according to a new ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 7-2 decision last week, the court upheld the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act which Congress and President George W. Bush agreed to implement in 2006. The law was designed to give prison authorities the power to indefinitely hold rapists and molesters suffering from mental illness following the conclusion of their sentences as handed down by the courts. The two Supreme Court justices who dissented in the opinion were conservatives Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
The case overturned a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which found Congress had overstepped its authority in passing the law. Five prisoners had challenged the constitutionality of the law. Four of them were detained more than two years after their sentences were complete because they had been deemed sexually dangerous less than one month before their scheduled releases.
The Supreme Court’s ruling troubled some civil libertarians, such as Liliana Segura of AlterNet. “If the government can keep sex offenders in preventive custody as long as they remain ‘dangerous,’ what will stop it from doing the same with terror suspects? The rights of terrorists—like those of sex offenders—might matter little to the average American, but the implications for a free society are unmistakeably (sic) dangerous.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff
'Sexually Dangerous' Can Be Kept in Prison (by Annie Youderian, Courthouse News Service)
United States v. Comstock (U.S. Supreme Court) (pdf)


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