federal government can’t hold sexually dangerous people in civil commitment under commerce clause

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Locke on January 10, 2009

says Ryan.

From the AP:

Congress overstepped its authority when it enacted a law allowing the federal government to hold sex offenders in custody indefinitely beyond the end of their prison terms, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The law allowing civil commitment of “sexually dangerous” federal inmates intrudes on police powers that the Constitution reserves for states, many of which have their own similar statutes, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

The panel was unanimous, by the way.  The law is 18 U.S.C. sec. 4248, and here’s the juicy part of the opinion:

At its core, the Government’s argument attempts to “pile inference upon inference” so as to “convert congressional authority under the Commerce Clause to a general police power of the sort retained by the States.” Lopez, 514 U.S. at 567. Were we to accept the Government’s logic, Congress could authorize the civil commitment of a person on a showing that he posed a general risk of any sexually violent conduct, even though not all, or even most, of this potential conduct violated federal law. This argument would convert the federal government’s limited power to criminalize narrow forms of sexual violence into the general power to regulate all sexual violence, including acts which violate no criminal statute. Congressional power does not reach so far.

I think this is properly decided.  First, that law is way overbroad.

If, after the hearing, the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person is a sexually dangerous person, the court shall commit the person to the custody of the Attorney General.

Sexually dangerous person?  What does that even mean?  And, like the court pointed out, you can be a sexually dangerous person yet commit no crime under this statute.  I’m trying to think how — maybe if you want to engage in rape fantasies or something.  Would a sex addict be a sexually dangerous person?  What about someone who is unrepentant about his or her sex crime?  What about a someone who committed a sex crime against a child — is that person ever not a sexually dangerous person?  Lots of questions, no real answers from the law.

Second, most states have civil committment laws to cover this situation.  They’re just drafted better.


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