The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
SNAP Press Statement
For immediate release: Monday, May 17, 2010
Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Sex Offenders After Their Sentences Expire; SNAP responds
Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago, national president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312-399-4747)
We’re very grateful for this ruling that will help protect vulnerable kids from shrewd predators.
We understand that ‘civil commitment’ laws are controversial and make some civil libertarians uncomfortable. But we know, from painful firsthand experience, much about the devastation caused by child sex crimes and the chances that those who molest will likely keep molesting. If we must err, let’s err on the side of protecting the very real and undeniable rights of children to be safe from horrific abuse, over the perceived and questionable rights of adult criminals to walk free.
Finally, we believe police and prosecutors need and deserve more tools, not fewer tools, to safeguard the public from sexual predators.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 9,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Peter Isely (414-429-7259), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell)
MAY 17, 2010, 11:31 A.M. ET
Court Rules U.S. Can Hold Sex Offenders After Their Sentences Expire
By JESS BRAVIN
WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court said Monday that the federal government can keep "sexually dangerous" prisoners in custody past the completion of their sentences, overruling arguments that only states hold such power.
The ruling was 7-2, with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in dissent.
In the sex offender case, writing for the court, Justice Stephen Breyer said Congress could authorize the civil commitment of these offenders under its constitutional authority to enact laws "necessary and proper" to the exercise of its specific powers. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor joined the majority opinion. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito each wrote separately, endorsing the result but reaching it through different reasoning.
More than 20 states have laws permitting "civil commitment" of prisoners deemed sexually violent or otherwise mentally ill after they have served sentences for specific crimes. In 2006, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which authorizes the Justice Department to similarly hold federal prisoners who are nearing release or were found mentally incompetent for trial.
At arguments in January, Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the court that federal prison officials found about 15,000 inmates with histories of sexual violence or child molestation, but only 105 who were determined to have a mental illness making it "reasonably likely" they would commit such offenses in the future.
One of those prisoners was Graydon Comstock, who in November 2006, six days before completing a 37-month federal sentence for possession of child pornography, was certified as sexually dangerous and denied release. He and several other such prisoners sued, claiming that Congress assumed powers only states can exercise.
The issue has divided trial courts, but the first federal appeals court to consider the question, the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., sided with the inmates and ruled the law unconstitutional.
States hold general police powers over public health and safety, and Congress has certain powers denied to states, such as declaring war. But federal criminal law can relate only to specific powers of the federal government. There is no general federal murder statute, for example, but there are laws against killing a federal officer.
Because the sex crimes that federal prisoners were considered likely to commit in the future fall under state rather than federal law, the appeals court found that Congress lacked authority to detain the inmates.
At the arguments in January, Ms. Kagan said the power to confine such prisoners was implicit in the government's duty "to run a responsible criminal justice system." The law aims "to make sure that sexually dangerous, mentally ill people don't fall through the cracks between federal custody and the re-establishment of state control," she said.
Ms. Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama earlier this month.
Write to Jess Bravin at [email protected]
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests