Supreme Court Allows Federal Government To Indefinitely Detain Sex Offenders

On Monday the Supreme Court ruled that inmates who are “sexually dangerous” may be detained after their prison terms are complete. In US v. Comstock, the Supreme Court determined by a 7-2 vote that federal officials may indefinitely hold inmates after they finish their prison term. In doing so, the Court reversed a lower court decision holding that Congress had overstepped its authority in allowing indefinite detentions, reasoning that it is a “necessary and proper” means of exercising federal law.

U.S. v. Comstock arises out of the actions of Graydon Comstock, a man was originally sentenced to three years in prison for possession of child pornography. With 6 days left to go in his sentence, he was declared “sexually dangerous” and the pursuant to the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, he was civilly committed to a federal prison.

Pursuant to the Adam Walsh Act, the US Attorney general has to authority to indefinitely detain those who have committed certain sex offenses if shown to be “sexually dangerous inmates.” The Act defines a person as sexually dangerous if he has “engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation” and suffers from a “severe mental illness that would make it difficult to refrain from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.”

The Adam Walsh Act also establishes a national sex offender registry, increases punishments for some federal crimes against children and increases protections against child pornography.

Currently, 20 states – not including Michigan – around the country allow civil commitments of sex offenders beyond their prison terms – in theory for treatment and rehabilitation. It remains to be seen how this ruling will affect these controversial state programs which are costly, rarely lead to release and deny inmates protections of the criminal justice system.


As a Michigan sex crimes defense attorney concerned about protecting individual’s rights, I will be watching closely how this decision affects the constitutional rights of individuals charged with sex crimes, and those incarcerated awaiting release.

Grabel & Associates handles the defense of all criminal sex offenses throughout the State of Michigan, in both state and federal courts. Please contact us for a free initial consultation if you or someone you love has been charged with a sex crime.