May 17, 2010
Posted: 01:06 PM ET
(CNN) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday the federal government has the power to keep some sex offenders behind bars indefinitely after they have served their sentences if officials determine those inmates may prove "sexually dangerous" in the future.
"The federal government, as custodian of its prisoners, has the constitutional power to act in order to protect nearby (and other) communities from the danger such prisoners may pose," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the 7-2 majority.
At issue was the constitutionality of federal "civil commitment" for sex offenders who are nearing the end of their confinement or who are considered too mentally incompetent to stand trial.
The main plaintiff in the case, Graydon Comstock, was certified as dangerous six days before his 37-month federal prison term for processing child pornography was to end. Comstock and the others filing suit remain confined at Butner Federal Correctional Complex near Raleigh, North Carolina.
Three other inmates who filed suit served prison terms of three to eight years for offenses ranging from child pornography to sexual abuse of a minor. Another was charged with child sex abuse but was declared mentally incompetent to face trial.
All were set to be released nearly three years ago, but government appeals have blocked their freedom. The government says about 83 people are being held under the civil commitment program.
Corrections officials and prosecutors determined the men remained a risk for further sexually deviant behavior if freed. The inmates' attorneys maintain the continued imprisonment violates their constitutional right of due process and argue Congress overstepped its power by allowing inmates to be held for certain crimes that normally would fall under the jurisdiction of state courts.
Do you agree with the Supreme Court that some sex offenders should stay locked up indefinitely?
Filed under: Justice
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