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Prisoners No Longer Entitled to Witness Fees

In October of 1992 former President Bush signed bill HR-2324 into law which prohibits the payment to incarcerated persons of witness fee's in federal court. The law amends 28 U.S.C. § 1821 and overrules the US Supreme Courts decision in Demarest v. Manspeaker, 498 US 184 (1991), which had held that prisoners were entitled to witness fees under § 1821.

In the March, 1992, (Vol. 3, No. 3) issue of PLN Bill Dunne wrote an article titled "Protection of the Law". In his article Bill pointed out how clear the statute's language was that prisoners be paid witness fees; so clear that a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed it. Bill reported the details of the U.S. Attorneys and Marshalls charged with making the witness payments who had declined to do so despite the Supreme Court's ruling.

It appears that even after the Supreme Court ruling affirming that prisoners are indeed supposed to be paid witness fees no prisoner was ever actually paid the $30 he/she was entitled to. It is appropriate to quote Bill's article: "The rule of U.S. Law is once again shown to be the rule of the gun. Prisoners have no hired guns of either the Marshall sort or the suit sort who pay for and influence congress to refrain from resolutions injurious to their interests. Power in this society is predicated on the wealth to hire such guns, and prisoners are among society's most impoverished segment. Hence, they get only as much democracy as the wealthy feel necessary to maintain appearances."

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