Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sexually Dangerous Persons Comittment Scheme Does Not Violate Due Process

US v. Comstock: This decision comes following the remand of this case by the Supreme Court following it's decision last year upholding Congress's authority to enact the civil commitment scheme for "sexually dangerous" offenders in the Adam Walsh Act of 2006. Because the Fourth Circuit had agreed with the district court that Congress lacked that authority, it did not address the defendants' due process attacks on the law the first time around. This time, with the issue of Congressional authority resolved, it addressed the due process argument. Under the Act, a person may be committed if a court finds by clear and convincing evidence both that that person "has engaged or attempted to engage in sexual violence or child molestation" and is "sexually dangerous to others."

The Fourth Circuit concluded that this scheme did not violate due process. It set out three criterion that must be met before commitment could take place: that the defendant has engaged or attempted to engage in sexual violence or child molestation (the "prior bad act finding"); that the defendant suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder; and that, as a result, the defendant would have serious difficulty refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released. The court concluded, and the defendants agreed, that Supreme Court precedent required only proof by clear and convincing evidence on the second and third criterion. As to the prior bad act finding, however, the defendants argued that a beyond a reasonable doubt standard was required. The court disagreed, holding that the prior bad act finding is not limited to criminal behavior and thus no "prior criminal act finding" is required by the Act. Furthermore, the nature of the Act was that of a civil, rather than criminal, proceeding and thus was not subject to the higher standard of proof.

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