Seling v. Young
Annotate this Case
531 U.S. 250 (2001)
OCTOBER TERM, 2000
SELING, SUPERINTENDENT, SPECIAL COMMITMENT CENTER v. YOUNG
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 99-1185. Argued October 31, 2000-Decided January 17,2001
Washington State's Community Protection Act of 1990 (Act) authorizes the civil commitment of "sexually violent predators," persons who suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that makes them likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence. Respondent Young is confined under the Act at the Special Commitment Center (Center), for which petitioner is the superintendent. Young's challenges to his commitment in state court proved largely unsuccessful. Young then instituted a habeas action under 28 U. S. C. § 2254, seeking release from confinement. The District Court initially granted the writ, concluding that the Act was unconstitutional. While the superintendent's appeal was pending, this Court decided Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U. S. 346, holding that a similar commitment scheme, Kansas' Sexually Violent Predator Act, on its face, met substantive due process requirements, was nonpunitive, and thus did not violate the Double Jeopardy and Ex Post Facto Clauses. The Ninth Circuit remanded for reconsideration in light of Hendricks. The District Court then denied Young's petition. In particular, the District Court determined that, because the Washington Act is civil, Young's double jeopardy and ex post facto claims must fail. The Ninth Circuit reversed that ruling. The "linchpin" of Young's claims, the court reasoned, was whether the Act was punitive "as applied" to Young. The court did not read Hendricks to preclude the possibility that the Act could be punitive as applied. Reasoning that actual confinement conditions could divest a facially valid statute of its civil label upon a showing by the clearest proof that the statutory scheme is punitive in effect, the court remanded the case for the District Court to determine whether the conditions at the Center rendered the Act punitive as applied to Young.
Held: An Act, found to be civil, cannot be deemed punitive "as applied" to a single individual in violation of the Double Jeopardy and Ex Post Facto Clauses and provide cause for release. Pp. 260-267.
(a) Respondent cannot obtain release through an "as-applied" challenge to the Act on double jeopardy and ex post facto grounds. The Act is strikingly similar to, and, in fact, was the pattern for, the Kansas Act upheld in Hendricks. Among other things, the Court there applied
the principle that determining the civil or punitive nature of an Act must begin with reference to its text and legislative history. See 521 U. S., at 360-369. Subsequently, the Court expressly disapproved of evaluating an Act's civil nature by reference to its effect on a single individual, holding, instead, that courts must focus on a variety of factors considered in relation to the statute on its face, and that the clearest proof is required to override legislative intent and conclude that an Act denominated civil is punitive in purpose or effect. Hudson v. United States, 522 U. S. 93, 100. With this in mind, the Ninth Circuit's "asapplied" analysis for double jeopardy and ex post facto claims must be rejected as fundamentally flawed. This Court does not deny the seriousness of some of respondent's allegations. Nor does the Court express any view as to how his allegations would bear on a court determining in the first instance whether Washington's confinement scheme is civil. Here, however, the Court evaluates respondent's allegations under the assumption that the Act is civil, as the Washington Supreme Court held and the Ninth Circuit acknowledged. The Court agrees with petitioner that an "as-applied" analysis would prove unworkable. Such an analysis would never conclusively resolve whether a particular scheme is punitive and would thereby prevent a final determination of the scheme's validity under the Double Jeopardy and Ex Post Facto Clauses. Confinement is not a fixed event, but extends over time under conditions that are subject to change. The particular features of confinement may affect how a confinement scheme is evaluated to determine whether it is civil or punitive, but it remains no less true that the query must be answered definitively. A confinement scheme's civil nature cannot be altered based merely on vagaries in the authorizing statute's implementation. The Ninth Circuit's "as-applied" analysis does not comport with precedents in which this Court evaluated the validity of confinement schemes. See, e. g., Allen v. Illinois, 478 U. S. 364, 373-374. Such cases presented the question whether the Act at issue was punitive, whereas permitting respondent's as-applied challenge would invite an end run around the Washington Supreme Court's decision that the Act is civil when that decision is not before this Court. pp. 260-265.
(b) Today's decision does not mean that respondent and others committed as sexually violent predators have no remedy for the alleged conditions and treatment regime at the Center. The Act gives them the right to adequate care and individualized treatment. It is for the Washington courts to determine whether the Center is operating in accordance with state law and provide a remedy. Those courts also remain competent to adjudicate and remedy challenges to civil confinement schemes arising under the Federal Constitution. Because the