Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.


By: J. D. Enquist

It seems that there are increasingly more and more prisoner litigants and many of them becoming jailhouse lawyers. Or as it has been suggested, In-house Legal Consultants or Prisoners Legal consultants. The latter being of no importance, this article is focused on the new prisoner litigants who have skipped over an essential element, that is, understanding what "authority" (case law) is.

The following might be somewhat of a silly example, but only because of the nature of the characters. In any case, what is important is the illustration explaining "authority."

Olympia enacts a law that "dogs cannot run wild after 11:00 PM. At 12:00 midnight a city cop sees and grabs your dog six blocks away from your house (for some unknown reason the dog did not chew off the cop's hand). Within a few minutes the cop is banging at your door and returns you dog to you. Before you have the chance to tell the cop what you think about him disturbing your sleep, he hands you an $25.00 ticket. He tells you it's for your dog running wild. You tell the cop that your dog was not running wild.

The cop points at his watch and says that it's past 12:00 midnight, more than an hour past the time that the new law says your dog can't run wild, and that he found your dog six blocks from your house. You tell him, that may be so, but that your definition of running wild is foaming from the mouth and biting people (as you ask yourself why didn't the dog chew off his hand).

Now there is a dispute to what the words "running wild" in the new law mean. There is the cop's version and your version. The case goes to Court; the Judge decides and gives official definition to what "running wild" means. Thereafter it is AUTHORITY; it's the official definition as it applies to that law.

The essential element for the new prisoner litigant is to understand what "authority" is. As for the dog, the smell of pork was enough to make him swallow his own foam.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login