By Kim Sokolich

This week, the 4th Circuit determined if a  person physically in a prison for civil detention is “imprisoned” for purposes of criminal time served and supervised release.

This case, U.S. v. Neuhauser, began over ten years ago when Jeffrey Neuhauser pled guilty to one count of interstate travel with intent to engage in sex with a minor and one count of distribution of child pornography. Neuhauser was sentenced and schedule to be released from federal prison in June 2007. Two weeks before his release, the Government certified Neuhauser as a “sexually dangerous person” under the Adam Walsh Act. Under the Adam Walsh Act, sexually dangerous persons are to receive court ordered mental health treatment. The certification triggered a stay of Neuhauser’s prison release until a federal district court could determine if Neuhauser was mentally-ill under the Adam Walsh Act. Neuhauser remained in the same federal prison during this time, but was moved to a different housing area. Nearly five years later, the district court found that there was no reason to justify Neuhauser to civil commitment, thus he was finally released.

Five months after his release, Neuhauser moved to terminate his term of supervised release (a requirement of his release as a sex offender). The supervised release period is meant to improve the odds of a successful transition into the community. According to the court it is a “unique method of post confine meant supervision that fulfills rehabilitative ends distinct from those served by incarceration.” This period begins once the prisoner is released from a period of imprisonment.  Neuahuser contents that his term of supervise release expired as it should have begun on the date his criminal conviction prison sentence ended in 2007. He noted that after that, he was no longer serving time in prison based on criminal confinement, but rather due to the operation of a criminal statute. Thus, Neuhauser argued that civil detention, unlike criminal confinement, does not constitute imprisonment. The government on the other hand, believed that the Neuhauser’s period of supervised release did not begin until he was physically released from the federal prison.

Here, the 4th Circuit sided with the government. Looking at the basic dictionary definition, “imprison,” is simply to put a person in a prison. According to take the narrow view of Neuhauser, that imprisonment requires some sort of criminal conviction attached, is to go far beyond the plain meaning of the term imprisonment. Additionally, the 4th Circuit noted that to define imprisonment under Neuhauser’s view, would directly offend the purpose of supervised release. The court noted that it “is hard to imagine the way which supervision would aid in a person’s transition if he could serve his entire term of supervised release before leaving prison. Thus, for the purposes of supervised release time, imprisoned simply means “released from confinement.” There is no difference in spending time in prison for a criminal conviction or civil detention. Therefore the 4th Circuit rejected Neuhauser’s motion and affirmed the district court’s decision.