Monday, December 6, 2010

Statutorily mandated evidentiary hearing required for the civilly committed before habeas eligible

Timms v. Johns, No. 10-6496 (4th Cir. Dec. 6, 2010):

[UPDATE on 1/10/2012: The Fourth Circuit announces its panel decision in Timms: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-4th-circuit/1590792.html.]

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, 18 U.S.C. § 4248, provides for the civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons in federal custody for treatment following the expiration of their federal prison sentences.  The Eastern District of North Carolina found the statute unconstitutional—and the Fourth Circuit agreed—on the ground that Congress acted ultra vires.

Timms was held pursuant to the Adam Walsh Act.  He petitioned  for a writ of habeas corpus, which the District Court issued him.  The Fourth Circuit granted an emergency motion to stay Timms's release.  One and a half months later, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Fourth Circuit, holding that the Necessary and Proper Clause authorized Congress to enact § 4248.

On remand, the Fourth Circuit vacates the District Court's grant of habeas relief and remands with directions to dismiss the habeas petition without prejudice.  It does so on the ground that Timms did not exhaust alternative remedies available to him.  This is because Timms pursued a habeas remedy instead of proceeding with the statutorily-mandated evidentiary hearing under § 4248.  Furthermore, the Fourth Circuit finds that Timms's situation does not rise to the level of an "exceptional circumstance" warranting the exercise of habeas jurisdiction.

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