Monday, January 12, 2009

Post-Sentence Confinement Statute Struck Down

US v. Comstock: This was a challenge to 18 USC 4248, a portion of the Adam Walsh Act that allows the Government to commit someone indefinitely who is a "sexually dangerous" person prior to the expiration of a federal criminal sentence. Comstock and the other defendants in this consolidated case had all been detained past the end of their criminal sentence under the law. The district court concluded that the law exceeded Congress's authority and intruded on powers reserved to the states.

On a Government appeal, the Fourth Circuit (as the first Circuit Court to deal with the issue) unanimously agreed with the district court and struck down the law. Relying on the Supreme Court's decisions in Lopez and Morrison, the court concluded that Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause did not extend so far as to reach the civil incarceration of people with no connection to interstate commerce. "Morrison," the court stated, "forecloses any such argument." The court also turned away the Government's argument that the Necessary and Proper Clause gave Congress the authority to enact the law as part of its general ability to maintain a criminal justice and penal system.

Congrats to the FPD office in Raleigh for the win!


Anonymous said...

This is more a question. Does this effectively prevent the Bureau of Prisons from attempting to, or utilizing the procedures to commit someone past their release date because of this ruling?

Assuming that it does, does that prevent the aforementioned ONLY in the 4th circuit or could that be applied in another circuit?

Also, does the 8th circuit's contrary opinion on the matter, under a different attribute, make any difference?

Jonathan Byrne said...

The Comstock ruling applies only to the Fourth Circuit. It has been accepted for review by the Supreme Court next term, so ultimately it will be up to the Supremes what the scope and impact of 18 USC 4248 is.