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United States v. Savage, No. 13-6326

Decided: December 10, 2013

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s civil commitment of the defendant, Richard Savage, as a “sexually dangerous person” under the United States Code. Savage appeals his commitment on the grounds of that the district court lacked the jurisdiction to order his commitment.

In 2006, Savage pled guilty and was convicted of distributing heroin in violation of the District of Columbia Code (“D.C. Code”). Savage served his three-year sentence in a facility operated by the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) in North Carolina. Prior to his release, the United States Government certified Savage as a “sexually dangerous person” pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4248 and ordered Savage civilly committed. Savage moved to dismiss the commitment proceedings on the grounds that the district court lacked jurisdiction because, as a District of Columbia offender, he was merely in physical custody of the BOP and not in legal custody of the BOP as required by § 4248. The district court denied his motion and ordered Savage civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person under § 4248. Savage appealed his commitment.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s jurisdiction to issue the civil commitment. In order to issue a civil commitment under § 4248, the prisoner must be “in the custody of” the BOP. Savage argued that the BOP lacked custody under § 4248 because, despite his confinement in a prison operated by the BOP, his conviction under District of Columbia law rather than federal law deprived the BOP of the legal custody required by § 4248. Savage argued that his case mirrored the Fourth Circuit’s decision in United States v. Joshua, 607 F.3d 379 (4th Cir. 2010), where the court held that an army prisoner detained under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”) did not qualify as being “in the custody of” of the BOP because the Army retained legal custody over the offender pursuant to a memorandum of agreement under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), even after the prisoner was confined in a prison operated by the BOP.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed. The court distinguished Savage’s case from Joshua because, unlike the prisoner in Joshua who was a prisoner in the military criminal justice system, Savage was a prisoner of the District of Columbia criminal justice system. Under the military system, the prisoner is merely “confined” in a federal prison that may fall within the BOP while the military retains “custody” over the prisoner. In contrast, under the District of Columbia’s criminal justice system, all prisoners are confined to prisons operated by the BOP. Moreover, all D.C. criminals are subject to “any law or regulation applicable to persons committed for violations of laws of the United States.” Moreover, the D.C. Code requires that the BOP retain responsibility for the care and custody of prisoners convicted of a violation of D.C. law. The Fourth Circuit held that, by placing D.C. criminals in physical custody of the BOP and subjecting them to the laws and regulations of the BOP, Congress intended to place D.C. criminals under both physical and legal custody of the BOP. Therefore, by possessing physical and legal custody, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not err in determining that it had the jurisdictional authority to civilly commit Savage as a “sexually dangerous person” under § 4248.

Full Opinion

– Wesley B. Lambert