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Civil Commitment Provisions of Adam Walsh Act Held Unconstitutional

Civil Commitment Provisions of Adam Walsh Act Held Unconstitutional

Congress exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause of the U.S. Constitution in enacting the civil commitment provisions of the Adam Walsh Act, a Minnesota U.S. District Court ruled on May 23, 2008.

Shortly before Roger Dean Tom was about to complete his ten-year federal prison sentence for aggravated sexual abuse, the United States stayed his release by filing a petition pursuant to the Adam Walsh Act, 18 U.S.C. § 4248(a), which authorizes the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to “stay the release” of any prisoner certified by the BOP to be “sexually dangerous.”

A stay under the Walsh Act remains in effect until a court determines, by clear and convincing evidence, whether the person is in fact sexually dangerous. If the person is found to be sexually dangerous, he or she is committed to the custody of the Attorney General.

Tom moved to dismiss the government’s petition, arguing that the civil commitment provisions of the Walsh Act exceeded Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause of the Constitution. Joining a split among district courts that have considered the issue, Judge Paul A. Magnuson granted Tom’s motion.

The civil commitment provisions of the Walsh Act exceed Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause, Magnuson wrote, because they seek to “regulate and prevent noneconomic criminal conduct that traditionally has been the province of the states.”

Likewise, the provisions could not be upheld based on the Necessary and Proper Clause, Magnuson decided. While courts have upheld Congress’ authority to retain DNA samples from released prisoners under the Necessary and Proper Clause, retaining DNA samples “is fundamentally different than retaining custody of the inmate.”

Accordingly, the court dismissed the government’s petition to stay Tom’s release. See: United States v. Tom, 558 F.Supp.2d 931 (D.Minn., 2008).

One month later, the district court denied the government’s renewed request to stay Tom’s release pending an appeal, holding that “the Government has failed to satisfy its burden for a stay.” Citing prison records, including records from a BOP psychiatrist, that clearly indicated Tom was not deemed a risk for release and placement in a halfway house, the Court remarked that granting the stay requested by the government “would violate not only logic but the law.” See: United States v. Tom, 558 F.Supp.2d 942?(D.Minn., 2008).

PLN has recently reported other successful challenges to the Adam Walsh Act. [See: PLN, Oct. 2008, p.23 and 38].

Additional source: Star Tribune

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