Inmates Held in Local Jail Subject to Federal Law

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By Lance J. Rogers

Sept. 1 — Congress has the authority to make it a crime for federal inmates to commit sexual assaults while being held in state and local facilities, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Aug. 27.

In an opinion by Judge Morgan Christen, the court said the 2006 expansion of federal jurisdiction to cover state or local facilities housing federal prisoners didn't usurp state authority and fell within Congress's power to enact laws that are “necessary and proper” to ensure the safe and orderly incarceration of federal prisoners.

Rational and Modest Extension

The necessary and proper clause grants Congress broad authority to enact laws that are rationally related to the implementation of its constitutionally enumerated powers, the court said.

Congress didn't exceed this authority when it broadened the jurisdictional reach of 18 U.S.C. §§  2241 and 2244 to include sex offenses occurring “in any prison, institution, or facility in which persons are held in custody by direction of or pursuant to a contract or agreement with the Attorney General,” the court said, because this is a modest addition to a long-standing history of regulation in this area.

“Congress has long been involved in legislating the terms of federal imprisonment,” and this extension is reasonably adapted to Congress's power to act as a “responsible federal custodian,” the court said.

Although the state courts already criminalize this type of conduct, Congress didn't overreach merely by implementing a system that is “concurrent and complementary,” it said.

Limited to Federal Inmates

The court shot down Sabil M. Mujahid's claim that the laws unconstitutionally intrude into areas ordinarily reserved to the states because the law could conceivably be used to prosecute offenses committed by state inmates, state employees and people who visit inmates in state custody at any institution where federal inmates are held.

This case involves criminal activity by a federal inmate who happened to be housed in a state facility, “not a crime committed by one state inmate against another,” the court noted.

Judges J. Clifford Wallace and Kim McLane Wardlaw joined the opinion.

John P. Balazs, Sacramento, Calif., represented Mujahid. The U.S. Attorney's Office, Anchorage, Alaska, represented the government.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lance J. Rogers in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom P. Taylor at