(CN) – A law allowing the indefinite detention of offenders deemed “sexually dangerous” does not violate their due process rights, the 4th Circuit ruled on remand from the Supreme Court.
A provision of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 allows the attorney general and the director of the Bureau of Prisons to certify offenders as “sexually dangerous” and ask a court to order their civil commitment.
To do so, the court must find “clear and convincing evidence” that the person “has engaged or attempted to engage in sexual violence or child molestation” and is “sexually dangerous to others.”
The law was challenged by five prisoners considered sexually dangerous, four of whom were incarcerated more than two years after they had finished serving their sentences.
A federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional, saying it not only exceeded Congress’ authority but also violated inmates’ due process rights.
The federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., affirmed on the legislative-power ground, but never reached the due process claim.
Former Solicitor General Elena Kagan successfully argued the government’s case in the Supreme Court. She said the government has a duty to release criminals responsibly, particularly dangerous criminals who would likely reoffend due to a mental illness.
Ruling that Congress had the constitutional authority to enact the law, the high court sent the case back to the 4th Circuit for a ruling on the due process claim.
The appellate panel sided with the government, saying the inmates failed to demonstrate that the law’s “clear and convincing evidence” standard renders the statute unconstitutional.
“Rather, at the very least, the challenged provision ‘has a plainly legitimate sweep,'” wrote Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, quoting the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.