The Supreme Court ruled today that convicted sex offenders can be imprisoned even after their sentences expire if they are determined to be mentally ill and sexually dangerous.
In a decision by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court upheld a federal law that allows dangerous sex offenders to remain in prison if the federal government proves by clear and convincing evidence they would have "serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation" if released.
The case came about when the government sought to detain five men who had been convicted or charged with federal sex offenses. Three had pleaded guilty in federal court to possessing child pornography and a fourth had pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a minor. The fifth man was charged with aggravated sexual abuse of a minor, but was found incompetent to stand trial.
The five men argued that continuing to detain them violated their constitutional rights. A federal appeals court agreed that Congress exceeded its power in passing the law.
In overturning the appeals court decision, the Court emphasized that the constitutional clause at issue "grants Congress broad authority to enact federal legislation."
Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the Court was granting Congress broad powers that should be left to the states.