The federal government has the power to civilly commit dangerous sexual offenders (DSO) under a clause in the Constitution.
In a highly controversial area of the law relating to dangerous sexual offenders and the government’s ability to commit them, a recent case has made the issue a whole lot clearer. In United States v. Comstock, the courts said the federal government does have the power to civilly commit DSOs under the correct clause of the Constitution. The decision spelled out just what the power of the correct clause is in circumstances where a DSO is committed.
In the first instance, the court found that the relevant clause for committal offers a broad delegation of legislative authority. Secondly, the relevant portion of the code relating to committal (18 U.S.C. § 4248) is considered to be a relatively humble addition to prison related mental health statutes, largely unchanged for decades – like a small rock in a deep pond.
The court went further and also indicated they felt it was reasonable for Congress to continue its civil commitment system to deal with mentally ill and DSO offenders already in prison, even if it kept them in jail past the end date of their federal sentence. Having said that, the court also articulated that the statute in is line with states’ interests and that what is necessary and proper may be based on a series of inferences. The statute is not considered to be too sweeping since very few people or offenders have fallen under its provisions.
Criminal defense attorneys need to keep in mind that the court did not expressly deal with the issue of whether or not this statute denies equal protection of the law, other rights guaranteed by the Constitution or substantive and procedural due process.