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LEGAL REVIEW (R)
|Vol. 39 No. 3||May / June 2010|
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Highlights of This Issue
United States Supreme Court/Special Bulletin
Federal and State Decisions
United States Supreme Court
Arrest, Search and Seizure
Civil Liability / Personnel Law
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Convicted Sexually Dangerous Prisoners Can Be Civilly Committed Beyond Their Criminal Release Date.
18 U.S.C. § 4248 allows a federal district court to order the civil commitment of a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoner beyond the date he would otherwise be released from his criminal incarceration. The Government instituted civil-commitment proceedings under the statute against defendants, each of whom moved to dismiss on the ground, inter alia, that, in enacting the statute, Congress exceeded its powers under the Necessary and Proper Clause, U. S. Const., Art. I, sec.8, cl. 18. Agreeing, the District Court granted dismissal, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed on the legislative-power ground.
In a 7-2 decision and a majority opinion written by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court ruled the Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress authority to enact the statute. The Court said there are sound reasons for the statute. 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.
Juveniles Can Not Be Sentenced to Life Imprisonment Without Parole for Non-Homicide Offenses.
Graham v. Florida (08-7412, 2010).
Defendant was 16 when he committed armed burglary and another crime. Under a plea agreement, the state trial court sentenced him to probation and withheld adjudication of guilt. Subsequently, the trial court found that he had violated the terms of his probation by committing additional crimes. The trial court then adjudicated Graham guilty of the earlier charges, revoked his probation, and sentenced him to life in prison for the burglary. Because the state had abolished its parole system, the life sentence left defendant with no possibility of release except executive clemency. He challenged his sentence under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.
In a 6-3 decision and a majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Court ruled the Eighth Amendment does not permit a juvenile offender to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for a nonhomicide crime. To do so constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The Court noted that the United States is the only country in the world that imposes this type of sentence. It said that while the judgments of other nations and the international community are not dispositive as to the meaning of the Eighth Amendment, the Court has looked abroad to support its independent conclusion that a particular punishment is cruel and unusual.
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