[JURIST] A federal law allowing prison officials to indefinitely commit sex offenders to a mental hospital following their prison term is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, effectively freeing five convicted sex offenders pending the government's filing of a motion to stay the order. Senior US District Court Judge Earl Britt [official profile] of the US Eastern District of North Carolina [official website] struck down the section of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 [text] allowing prosecutors to request that a sex offender be committed to a mental hospital upon "clear and convincing evidence" that the person is "sexually dangerous" and thus likely to commit the crime in the future. Britt ruled that Congress does not have the power to influence outcomes of criminal proceedings that fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of state courts.
In 1997, the Supreme Court in Kansas v. Hendricks [text] upheld a state civil commitment process as constitutional. The Kansas statute at issue allowed the state to confine, in a state mental hospital, sexually violent criminal offenders who are found to have a "mental abnormality" that poses a danger to others, even if their condition does not qualify as a "mental illness." The Court held, inter alia, that the Kansas statute did not violate the Double Jeopardy clause because the confinement was civil in nature and thus did not involve criminal punishment. As of 2006, at least 17 states and the District of Columbia had civil commitment statutes [press release]. AP has more. The News & Observer has local coverage.