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First U.S. Case of Indefinite Civil Confinement

February 14, 2009

Boston.com: Maine sex offender first in US to be committed by federal court.

This is a very disturbing story; the first time ever that the United States government has imposed indefinite civil imprisonment for a citizen under the Adam Walsh Act /SORNA.

A Maine man with a history of sexual assaults on teenage boys was ordered held by a federal judge yesterday as a sexually dangerous person, making him the first person in the country to be successfully committed by a federal court, according to US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan’s office.

Jeffrey Shields, a 47-year-old from Bath, was committed under the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, the first law that allows federal commitment for sexually dangerous offenders. US Judge Patti B. Saris issued her ruling after a 10-day trial in September that showed Shields had groped teenage boys on multiple occasions and that he had suffered sexual abuse himself as a child.

The judge’s ruling means Shields will be held indefinitely under the jurisdiction of the US attorney general’s office and receive sexual offender treatment. Once he has undergone treatment, he can petition the court to prove he is no longer a risk to re-offend. Where Shields will be held has yet to be determined.

Swomley said he also plans to appeal the ruling on grounds that the child protection act is unconstitutional, saying a federal judge in the Fourth Circuit in North Carolina – the only other place in the country where such cases are heard because of the availability of prisons with sexual offender treatment programs – has ruled that the federal government does not have the authority to commit people as sexually dangerous. Swomley said the constitutionality of the act has not been challenged in Boston because this is the first time someone has been committed.

Under the child protection act, Saris had to decide not only that Shields had a mental illness or disorder, but also that he was likely to reoffend. (.i.e. her subjective opinion of this likelihood)

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