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United States v. Tom, No. 08-2345.

In 1997, Roger Dean Tom pled guilty to one count of illegally crossing state lines with intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor.  Tom was sentenced to 120 months in prison and 60 months of supervised release.  Two days prior to his release, the United States initiated civil commitment proceedings against Tom under 18 U.S.C. § 4248 of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 (“Adam Walsh Act”). 

Under § 4248, Tom was entitled to a hearing to determine whether clear and convincing evidence existed that he was a sexually dangerous person, who, because of a mental illness, abnormality, or disorder, would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.  Prior to the hearing, Tom moved to dismiss the proceeding, arguing that § 4248 was unconstitutional.  The trial court agreed, holding that § 4248 exceeded Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that, through its Commerce Clause authority, “Congress may forbid or punish [the] use of interstate commerce ‘as an agency to promote immorality, dishonesty or the spread of any evil or harm to the people of other states from the state of origin.'” 

Because Tom conceded he was convicted under a federal statute that was appropriately enacted under Congress’s Commerce Clause power (transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in a sexual act), the court turned its attention to whether § 4248 comported with Congress’s authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause, which requires a showing that § 4248 is a rational and appropriate means to effectuate legislation authorized by the Constitution and that § 4248 is consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.  The court held that providing for civil commitment of persons under the circumstances was necessary and proper to the functioning of federal criminal laws.  Without such means, the power to prosecute or punish could be defeated or the opportunity to prevent a federal crime could be lost.  The court then noted that § 4248 did not infringe upon the Tenth Amendment as the provision was a “stop gap” provision designed to guarantee that sexual predators do not enter into the general population merely because they are in federal rather than state custody.  Accordingly, the court reversed the trial court’s ruling of unconstitutionality and re-instituted civil commitment proceedings against Tom.

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