LOCATION:Office of Attorney General
DOCKET NO.: 99-1185
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 531 US 250 (2001)
ARGUED: Oct 31, 2000
DECIDED: Jan 17, 2001
Maureen A. Hart – Olympia, Washington, argued the cause for the petitioner
Robert C. Boruchowitz – Argued the cause for the respondent
Facts of the case
Washington State’s Community Protection Act of 1990 (Act) authorizes the civil commitment of “sexually violent predators,” or persons who suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes them likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence. After his imprisonment for committing six rapes, Andre Brigham Young was scheduled to be released from prison in 1990. Prior to his release, the state successfully filed a petition to commit Young as a sexually violent predator. Ultimately, Young instituted a federal habeas action. Initially, the District Court granted the writ, finding that the Act was criminal rather than civil, and that it violated the double jeopardy and ex post facto guarantees of the Constitution. On remand from the Court of Appeals, the District Court denied Young’s petition. The court determined that the Act was civil and, therefore, it could not violate the double jeopardy and ex post facto guarantees. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the case turned on whether the Act was punitive “as applied” to Young.
May an act, found to be civil, be deemed punitive “as applied” to an individual in violation of the Double Jeopardy and Ex Post Facto Clauses, thereby providing a cause for release?
Media for Seling v. Young
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 17, 2001 in Seling v. Young
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 99-1185, Seling against Young will be announced by Justice O’Connor.
Sandra Day O’Connor:
This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Washington State’s Community Protection Act of 1990 authorizes the civil commitment of “sexually violent predators,” that is persons who suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes them likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence.
Respondent, Andre Brigham Young, is confined in Washington as a sexually violent predator at the Special Commitment Center.
Petitioner, Marc Seling is the superintendent of that facility.
In 1993, the Washington Supreme Court held that the act is civil, designed to incapacitate and to treat.
After the respondent unsuccessfully challenged his commitment in State Court, he started a habeas corpus action in Federal Court seeking release from confinement.
Among other claims, he contended that his confinement violated the Double Jeopardy and the Ex Post Facto Clauses of the United States Constitution.
The District Court rejected those claims because the Washington Act is civil not punitive.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling.
The Court of Appeals acknowledged that the Washington Act is civil, but reasoned that the ‘linchpin’ of respondent’s double jeopardy and ex post facto claims was whether the act was punitive as applied to him.
The court concluded that if the respondent could prove his allegations about the treatment regime and conditions of confinement at the center, he would establish that the Washington Act is punitive as applied to him.
The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the District Court for an evidentiary hearing.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Four Terms ago in Kansas versus Hendricks, we reviewed a confinement scheme very similar to the Washington Act.
In Hendricks, we explained that the question whether an Act is civil or punitive in nature is initially one of statutory construction.
A court must ascertain whether the legislature intended the Act to establish civil proceedings.
A court will reject the legislature’s intent only where a party challenging the Act provides the clearest proof that the Act is punitive in either purpose or effect.
We concluded in the Hendricks’ case that the person confined there had failed to satisfy his burden.
In the next term, in a case called Hudson versus United States, this court expressly disapproved of evaluating the civil nature of an Act by reference to the effect the Act has on a single individual.
In considering the respondent’s challenge in this case, we proceed then on the understanding that the Washington Act is civil as the Washington Supreme court held and as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged.
We hold that the respondent cannot obtain release through an as applied challenged to the Act on double jeopardy and ex post facto grounds.
We agree with the petitioner that an as-applied analysis would prove unworkable.
Such an analysis would never resolve whether an Act is punitive and would prevent a final determination of the Act’s validity under the Double Jeopardy and the Ex Post Facto Clauses.
Our decision today does not mean that that the respondent and others committed as sexually violent predators have no remedy for the alleged conditions at the center.
Under State Law, persons confined have a right to adequate care and individualized treatment.
In addition, the Washington Supreme Court has held that the Washington Act is civil and designed to incapacitate and to treat.
So, due process requires that the conditions and the duration of confinement under the Act bear some reasonable relation to the purposes of confinement.
Finally, we note that there is a Section 1983 action against the center that is pending in the Federal District Court in that state.
The center is operating under an injunction at present that requires it to improve the conditions of confinement and treatment there.
Sandra Day O’Connor:
Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion which Justice Souter has joined; Justice Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion.