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April 5, 2016
  Matherly v. Andrews -- Fourth Circuit
Forward Looking But Still Applicable: Fourth Circuit Holds Adam Walsh Act Not Impermissibly Retroactive

Areas of Law: Criminal Procedure, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure

Issues Presented: Whether the Adam Walsh Act ("the Act") was properly applied to a prisoner who was convicted of crimes and committed to Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") custody before the Act became effective. Whether the BOP relinquished its legal authority over the prisoner before the government filed for certification of the prisoner as a "sexually dangerous person" under the Act.

Brief Summary: In a published opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina's ("district court") holding that the Adam Walsh Act was permissibly applied to a prisoner who was convicted and committed to the BOP's custody before the Act became effective. However, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government on the issue of whether the BOP relinquished its legal authority over the prisoner before the government filed for certification of the prisoner as a sexually dangerous person.

Extended Summary: The Adam Walsh Act "authorizes the civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons who are in the custody of the BOP." A sexually dangerous person is a person who engaged in or "attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation and" who "would have serious difficulty refraining from [such conduct] if released." Following completion of any criminal sentence the government or the BOP can ensure continued civil commitment by certifying to the district court that an individual is a sexually dangerous person. If such certification occurs, the inmate's release is stayed pending a hearing. "If after [the] hearing the district court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person is" sexually dangerous, the court will commit the person to the Attorney General's custody "until it is determined that the person is no longer sexually dangerous to others."

Thomas Matherly pled guilty to one count of possessing child pornography. Following this conviction, his supervised release in an earlier case involving child sex charges was also revoked. He received a combined sentence in the two cases of 47 months imprisonment plus 3 years of supervised release. With time served and good time credits, Matherly was eligible for release on November 23, 2006. However, because November 23, 2006, was Thanksgiving Day, the BOP intended to release Matherly into supervised release on November 22, 2006. "On that same day, the government certified Matherly as a sexually dangerous person" under the Adam Walsh Act.

As required by the Act, the district court began civil commitment proceedings to determine whether Matherly was in fact sexually dangerous. Matherly conceded that he had previously molested children. He also conceded that he suffered from mental illness. In May 2012, after years of litigation by Matherly and others regarding the constitutionality of the Adam Walsh Act, the district court deemed Matherly to be sexually dangerous as defined by the Act. The court therefore ordered Matherly committed to the Attorney General's custody. In April 2013, Matherly filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that "the Act had been impermissibly applied retroactively to him." Matherly also contended he was not in BOP custody "within the meaning of [the Act]" when the government filed its certification. The district court rejected Matherly's claim, and Matherly appealed.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court. The Fourth Circuit found that the Act does not operate retroactively and was therefore not impermissibly applied to Matherly. The Act addresses the potential for future harm posed by sexual predators and is not punishment for past crimes. The court explained that Congress expressed its intent that the Act apply to people "in the BOP's custody who would pose a current threat to the public if released," regardless of when the individual was convicted or was committed to the BOP's custody. Moreover, the court explained that the Act is not impermissibly retroactive as it "does not seek to affix culpability for prior acts" and only uses prior acts "for evidentiary purposes to support a finding of a person's mental abnormality, future dangerousness, or both."

However, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government and remanded to allow the parties to further develop the record on when the government relinquished its legal authority over Matherly. In the court's view the records Matherly submitted were "insufficient to demonstrate that the BOP relinquished its legal authority over Matherly prior to the government's filing" for his certification as a sexually dangerous person.

To read the full text of this opinion, please click here.

Panel: Chief Judge Traxler, and Circuit Judges Agee and Wynn

Argument Date: 01/28/16

Date of Issued Opinion: 03/16/16

Docket Number: Case No. 14-7691

Decided: Affirmed in part; reversed and remanded in part by published opinion.

Case Alert Author: Simone Chukwuezi, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: ARGUED: Joshua Robbins, Brian Remondino, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant. Michael Lockridge, BUREAU OF PRISONS, Butner, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Stephen L. Braga, Appellate Litigation Clinic, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant. Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, R.A. Renfer, Jr., Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Chief Judge Traxler

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/05/2016 08:52 AM     4th Circuit  

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