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May 20, 2012

Federal civil commitment of sex offenders subject to new legal challenges

This lengthy article, headlined "Prisoners challenge extended confinement for sex crimes," provides an effective report on the nature and status of the legal issues surrounding sex offenders that the feds have civilly committed after they have completed their prison terms. Here are excerpts:

The high walls surrounding the Federal Correctional Complex at Butner leave no doubt that it’s a prison.  But for dozens of men held behind those walls, there is a growing question of whether they should be prisoners.

They have served their time and now are being imprisoned not for what they did, but what they might do.  They are sex offenders being held -- sometimes for years -- under a recent federal law that allows the detention of those deemed so dangerous the government will not risk their release even when their sentence is complete.  Now, with the bulk of the detainees being held at Butner, federal courts in North Carolina are trying to sort out who should remain in and who should be released from this legal limbo.

Lawyers for the detainees say the extended captivity reflects a law that applies a different and unfair standard to sex offenders.  They also say many detainees do not meet the level of threat the 6-year-old law requires for indefinite detention.  “The law doesn’t seem fair to me,” said Raleigh attorney John Keating Wiles, who has represented several of the men.  “Traditionally, we don’t take away people’s liberty because they might commit a crime.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has sought to extend the confinement of at least 136 sex offenders since 2006, but almost half the attempts have been rejected by the courts or dropped by the government.  Of the men being held for hearings, some, indeed, have criminal histories and behavioral offenses inside prison that raise questions about their release into the community.

In some cases, though, it is unclear whether the problems are deviant sexual compulsions or broader mental impairments and illness compounded by drug and alcohol abuse.  By law, a federal judge must rule on whether a detainee is too dangerous to be released.  In the Eastern District of North Carolina, a visiting judge from Michigan has been brought in, and several district judges have been assigned to help clear a backlog of cases that stacked up in the first four years after the law was passed.

Many cases were stalled by the lawsuit brought on behalf of Graydon Comstock, one of the first to be detained as sexually dangerous after serving time for receiving child pornography.  In 2011, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the government had that authority, a federal court ruled on the merits of classifying Comstock as sexually dangerous and found he did not qualify for commitment.

Eric J. Brignac, a federal public defender who has been involved with many of the cases in the state’s Eastern District, said the commitment procedure has highlighted a societal challenge. “It’s that tension between liberty and security,” Brignac said....

Each case essentially becomes a battle of the experts, with the government presenting doctors, psychologists and mental health analysts to bolster its claims. The defense brings in experts who offer their own assessments. It is up to a judge to sort through the opinions and evidence....

Thomas Shane Matherly, 36, who was scheduled for release in November 2006 but awaits a hearing on whether he’s sexually dangerous, was in New Bern in March in a federal courthouse making an argument similar to that made by the so-called “enemy combatants” detained at Guantanamo Bay. He argued that he is being wrongly held and is seeking damages of more than $50 million for emotional pain and suffering.

Court filings in his case offer a picture of life inside Butner for sex offenders caught in the legal limbo.  His life is like that of a prisoner. He wears an inmate uniform and eats in the prison mess hall. Matherly contends that he and others in a similar circumstance often are called “baby rapers” and “child molesters,” taunts that “very likely could lead to a physical confrontation at some point.”

In some ways, Matherly contends, his detention under the civil procedure has been more restrictive than when he was serving his sentence for possessing child pornography. Prisoners can take classes in blueprint reading, carpentry, car care and electrician skills, he contends, but detainees may not.  Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous sessions are not available to the detainees, he says.  The detainees are not given as much access to the recreation yard, he complains, or the recreation center with TVs, pool tables, basketball courts, exercise equipment, a band room and hobby-craft rooms.

“The government cannot have it both ways,” Matherly stated in court documents seeking damages. If the confinement is part of a civil process, he further stated, he should not be confined like a criminal. “Civil means civil,” Matherly stated, “with all the rights that accompany it.” Matherly argues that he has “the right to be free from harm.”...

The men branded by the government as sexually dangerous ostensibly are being held because they are mentally ill and need treatment, but few have enrolled in the sexual offender treatment program.  Lawyers and mental health workers advise them to be careful what they say in therapy, acknowledging that it could be used against them at trial....

Some question whether the underlying notion behind the new commitment procedure is about treating the sickest and most dangerous or more about issuing life sentences in cases where criminal law would not otherwise allow. Though prison statistics show low recidivism rates among sex offenders, high-profile cases of repeat offenders have left a lingering belief to the contrary.  “In general, sex offenders are seen as different,” said Brignac, the public defender.  “I think, in part, it is because we see them as incurable.”

May 20, 2012 at 02:22 PM | Permalink


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These civil commitment laws have nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with a desire to add extra sentence time on top of the sentence imposed.

We know this because the pretend-reasoning behind civil commitment should apply to any person suspected of being dangerous in any way. So, for instance, someone with a track record of domestic violence should be subject to civil commitment. Or a repeat fraud offender. Or a multiple DWI convict. But they're not subject to civil commitment, because civil commitment statutes are intended to add prison time to defendants who are so unpopular that the Government can do virtually anything to them and no one will care.

We also know that the goal is not public safety because these prisoners are kept in prisons. They're not put up on a hotel or given reasonably decent housing in a compound they cannot leave; they're put in exactly the same type of facility as anyone else convicted of a crime. Their "commitment" has nothing to do with treatment or simply safeguarding safety; it is intended to increase suffering indefinitely.

So the whole policy is one big lie. It would be preferable if they would just make the sentences longer to begin with; at least that would be honest.

Posted by: C.E. | May 20, 2012 8:27:48 PM

good for him. Hope he takes the nazi wannabee's to the cleaners and th en follows it up with a complain to the WORLD COURT!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 21, 2012 10:50:18 AM

While the icky perv suing the government is right, I suspect that given that the Fourth Circuit has been extremely hostile to the rights of persons who have been civilly committed this law suit will fail and fail misarably in such a way to harm the rights of more than just icky pervs.

Of course, there is another way - namely my proposed Erika's Law where icky pervs could voluntarily move to an offshore treatment resort. Or be voluntarily castrated and have their penises sliced off. Either option is much more humane than keeping icky pervs imprisoned in limbo forever.

Erika :)

Posted by: Erika | May 21, 2012 5:40:32 PM

wow, those thoughts are just as sick as the people you stand accusing

Posted by: ouch | May 21, 2012 7:29:38 PM

well erika that's why i said follow up with a legal complaint to the world court which would have jurisdiction on any number of civil rights violations of the treaties we have signed. At that point if he get's them to go along he could then get a judgement for damages from them and seize american assests outside the united states.

Posted by: rodsmith | May 21, 2012 8:01:34 PM

Congress = Nazis
Sex offenders = Jews

Posted by: Hadenuf | May 21, 2012 10:59:35 PM

rodsmith, you seriously think the U.S. would actually listen to the World Court?

Posted by: Erika | May 22, 2012 11:15:35 AM

lol who cares if they listen or not! under the rules they have created once he's got a seizure order from the world court he can have any contry in the world honor it! Considering the shit they have to be embarassed about....i doublt they would say a word and jsut hope it was buried in whatever countries local papers!

They certainly seem to demand everyone obey theirs!

Posted by: rodsmith | May 22, 2012 6:21:54 PM

I would like to know where our government thinks they are going with all this? I know some really delusional individuals would like to think that if anyone touches a person under the age of 18 that they can be put to death for such action. That will never happen and if it did society would bring and end to such grotesques laws so fast it would make our heads spin. So what are we doing? We have created a structure of digital wooden stocks where this small host of people who wold like such a law hunt and persecute people they don't know thinking they are doing a good thing when fact is with every action there is a reaction and no one wants to have anything to do with anyone that goes to a church and churches are getting fire bombed, bull dosed with people inside, and targeted for their united intolerance when they know they put this whole fiasco together at the end of the Vietnam war when the call was to make Love not War and they wanted a do over then. Any time we have people like today so worried and worked up about someone having sex we are looking and listening to people who are war mongers like the ones calling for war in Africa because their populous happens to be having sex with one another and some people say it forced. Please think for a moment. Sure anyone in any town can find someone who is being forced to have sex. The problem is some people really like to be forced to have sex. Some people pay people to beat them with whips and humiliate them too. Is that a reason to go into a fully Muslim country and start a WW3? Whats wrong with peace. If someone is interested in sex like the boy 14 who had sex with the 32 year old teacher lady why are we calling for her imprisonment and when will we see that to have equality between sexes what is good for the gander is also good for the goose? And if that is the case and in the UK the age of consent can be under certain circumstances 12 why have we settled on the age 18? What so we can war some more? There is with out a doubt an alternative reason for such laws. What we are doing now just makes more gays and soon it won't be men are from Mars and Women from Venus and if you have not seen the old movie it is time to dust it off and se Amazon women from the Moon.

Posted by: Keith Richard Radford Jr | Jun 29, 2012 3:35:13 PM

Do you realize how easy it is these days to have an innocent man put away for sexual molestation based on nothing more than a child's word? My boyfriend took a plea and is doing 14 years because he was worried about going to court and have a jury listen to his accuser. He didn't want to take his chances because he was facing life. It was a terrible divorce and I know she is lying. The mother has been threatening to do this for years if money ever became an issue. As soon as it was, the accusation followed. What occurred since has been a nightmare. He's passed several lie detectors. Blew all if then out of the water. It doesn't matter. Apparently the word if a child is all you need these days to incarcerate.

Our sex offender laws in the US have become absolutely crazy! I don't even recognize this country anymore. Something needs to be done.

Posted by: Shirley | Jul 7, 2012 3:55:02 PM

This is like science fiction where the cops are psychic and read peoples minds so that they can be arrested before they can commit the crime they are thinking about, except if 2 people are standing close together the might read the wrong mind and arrest the wrong person for not breaking the law. Of course everyone violates the law, even the police and the people that pass the laws. They don't always come to complete stops at stop signs, in fact they have probably run every stop sign they came to since the law requires a driver to stop before they pass the stop sign. They exceed the speed limit, they jay-walk and many people back up when they miss their exit of the interstate. Minor infractions? Yes! But what about the person that tried to back up to their missed exit, causing a crash that killed 6 people???

Posted by: Roger | Aug 25, 2012 10:10:57 PM

I do know this person who wants to sue for over $50 million is ridiculous. I look to make sure he is still in prison once in awhile and came across this. Matherly has stated to someone close to me that he has done something horrible but could not tell her. She was a God fearing women whom Matherly looked uped to. He has blamed my daughter for his obnoxious behavior of child abuse. He is dangerous and violent, again personal witness. Should he be in jail so he NEVER does this again, YES. Should he be awarded $50 million dollars for something he did and admitted to, NO. He should rot in jail like all the disgusting people who inflict harm to a child of any age under 18.

Posted by: Judy Cowie | Aug 6, 2015 2:10:46 PM

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