Supreme Court to Rule on Sex Offender Detainment

In 2006, Congress enacted the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. This act was named after Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old who was abducted and killed in 1981 in Hollywood, Fla. Among other things, the act provided for the mandatory registration of all sex offenders. Although these registration requirements act as continued punishment even after convicted sex offenders have served their jail or prison sentences, they are not nearly so egregious as another, more controversial provision of the Act.

After the completion of any prison sentence, the Adam Walsh Act provides for civil commitment of those deemed “dangerous sex offenders” – individuals who were convicted of a sexually violent offense or those who are at a “high risk” for committing a sexual offense against a minor. Under the Act, men and women who were imprisoned by the state for sexual offenses can be given psychological evaluations, and the state can then determine whether they are “dangerous sex offenders” and whether civil commitment is needed. If so, the state can hold the persons indefinitely.

The civil commitment provision of the Act is being challenged now in the well-publicized case of United States v. Comstock. Comstock argues that civil commitment after an individual has completed a prison sentence violates the U.S. Constitution. Comstock also argues that the rate of recidivism purported by Congress is inaccurate and does not support its claim that the act is necessary.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard this case prior to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, held that the challenged provision was unconstitutional and that the United States did not meet its burden of proof. The case was argued before the Supreme Court early this year, although a decision has not yet been handed down.