Because we said so…
Let me be clear from the outset: I believe the most dangerous sex offenders should be given life sentences. I don’t have to tell you who the most dangerous are. You know. Those folks need life terms in the clink where they can be molested as often as the guards turn their heads.
So, we’re clear, right? I don’t want to protect sex offenders. I want them in prison and I want them punished as harshly as our Constitution allows. With all of that said and understood, today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court freaks me right the hell out.
The decision overturns a lower court ruling and upholds the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Said act allows the federal government to determine that imprisoned sex offenders may be held–or, in the words of the act, civilly committed–beyond the length of their sentences if they are determined to be sexually dangerous.
That’s right. If an inmate is deemed to be sexually dangerous after serving his full sentence (even if he has never been convicted of a sex crime), he may be held indefinitely. Why? Because the federal government said so.
Now, this should seem like a good idea. The last thing I want is a sexual predator on the street. Nothing scares me more that a predator attacking my wife or children. Still, I have a hard time grasping how our Constitution allows for the indefinite commitment of someone after they have legally served their sentence. What’s more, the act can be applied retroactively, or, if you recall your high school civics class, ex post facto.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Perhaps there is a really good Constitutional argument in favor of a government committing people who have served a sentence for their crimes but are still considered to be dangerous. However, as the slippery slope is a fun one on which to play, I’d be curious to see the same standard applied to say, drug dealers. That is, say your son sells a dime bag of weed a few times too many and ends up doing some time. At the end of said sentence, he is evaluated and still considered to be a danger to the community. And so your son stays in jail as long as the Bureau of Prisons says he should.
While we’re on the slippery slope, let’s try this one. You are convicted of tax evasion and end up in prison. You run afoul of someone who has the power to suggest you might be a sexual deviant. You are deemed sexually dangerous by the Bureau and held indefinitely.
Here’s a clip from a paper on the subject:
To initiate civil commitment proceedings, the Bureau must certify the individual as a sexually dangerous person The statute defines a sexually dangerous person as one who has engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation and who is sexually dangerous to others and who suffers from a severe mental illness such that he would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released. However, neither sexually violent conduct nor child molestation is defined by the statute. The Attorney General is not required to present any evidence or make any preliminary showing in the certification; he need only include an allegation of dangerousness to create an effective certification. With this certification alone, the Bureau can automatically stay a person‘s release from prison for the duration of the civil commitment proceedings.
It’s one thing for Congress–made up of people who barely understand the daily news, let alone the Constitution–to pass a BS law. It’s another thing for the Supreme Court to say, “Sure, that sounds great. Have at it.”
I’m not going to cry for the sex offenders who end up staying behind bars. I’d love to see some super long mandatory sentences for sex crimes. However, this is one case in which I think our Constitution just took a beating.
Remember, the easiest way for a government to take your civil liberties is to get you to agree to take away the civil liberties of someone you don’t like.