MATHERLY V. ANDREWS, NO. 14-7691

Decided: March 16, 2016

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s determination that the Adam Walsh Act was not impermissibly applied retroactively to Matherly.  However, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the government on Matherly’s claim that he was not in custody when the certification proceedings were initiated, and remanded for further proceedings on this issue.

The Adam Walsh Act authorizes the civil commitment of sexually dangerous persons who are in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.  If, after a hearing, the district court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person is a sexually dangerous person, the court commits the person to the custody of the Attorney General, either for release to a state civil commitment system or to a federal facility until it is determined that the person is no longer sexually dangerous to others.  In October 2003, Matherly pled guilty to one count of possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 47 months imprisonment.  With prior time served, and assuming that he earned the good time credit, Matherly was eligible to be released to supervision on November 22, 2006.  On that same day, however, the government certified Matherly as a sexually dangerous person under 18 U.S.C. § 4248, automatically staying his release from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.  On May 3, 2012, following an evidentiary hearing, the district court found that Matherly was a sexually dangerous person under the Act and ordered that he be committed to the custody of the Attorney General.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.  On April 1, 2013, Matherly filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the Adam Walsh Act had been impermissibly applied retroactively to him and that, in any event, he was not in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons within the meaning of the Act when the government filed the certification.  The government moved to dismiss the petition or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, which the district court granted.

When determining whether a statute has been impermissibly applied retrospectively, the Court engages in a three-step inquiry.  First, the Court must determine whether Congress has expressly prescribed the statute’s proper reach.  If so, the inquiry ends there.  If not, the Court must decide whether the statute would operate retroactively.  If the Court determines that the statute does have a retroactive effect, the Court will not apply it absent clear congressional intent favoring such a result.  In applying these three steps, the Court found that Congress sufficiently expressed its intent that the Adam Walsh Act apply to all persons in the Bureau of Prison’s custody who would pose a current threat to the public if released.  Likewise, the Court found that the statute clearly did not have retroactive effect, as it simply uses prior acts solely for evidentiary purposes to support a finding of a person’s mental abnormality or future dangerousness.  The Act addresses dangers that arise postenactment.  Matherly also claimed that his civil commitment was improper because the Bureau of Prisons had already released him from its legal custody when the government filed the certification.  Matherly was released from custody on November 22, 2006 at 9:20 a.m..  Forty-eight minutes later, at 10:08 a.m., the civil commitment proceedings were commenced.  The Court found that the Bureau of Prisons records submitted by Matherly showing this forty-eight minute time gap were insufficient by themselves to demonstrate that the Bureau of Prisons relinquished its legal authority over Matherly prior to the government’s filing of the certification.  The Court found that there was a need to better develop the record, and the district court should be given the opportunity to make additional findings and conclusions in light of such developments.

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the government on Matherly’s retroactivity claim.  However, the Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the government on Matherly’s claim that he was not in custody when the certification proceedings were initiated, and remanded for further proceedings on this issue.

Full Opinion

Katie E. Lowery

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