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Wyoming State Prisoner's Suit for Access to Courts Denied by 10th Circuit

Wyoming prisoner Gary Lee Belden, sentenced in Wyoming state court to life imprisonment, has been denied relief by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit for alleged violations of his constitutional right to access the courts while he was incarcerated outside the state of Wyoming. The Appellate Court affirmed the decision of the district court, which found that his Fourteenth Amendment rights of access to the courts had not been violated.

Belden's complaint averred that the libraries and legal assistance in out-of-state prisons were inadequate for him to pursue litigation in Wyoming state court from August 2003 to 2010. The court relied on the decision of Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, (1966), which held that "prison law libraries and legal assistance programs are not ends in themselves, but only the means for ensuring reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of fundamental constitutional rights to the courts." In other words, the "main concern... is protecting the ability of an inmate to prepare a petition or complaint," Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, (1977).

But, as the Appellate Court noted, "The Constitution does not guarantee access to the courts to file frivolous claims... Thus, Mr. Belden must allege (and ultimately show) that he 'was frustrated or impeded in his effort to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim concerning his conviction or conditions of confinement,'" Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, (10th Cir. 2010).

The Appellate Court concluded that, "We can take judicial notice... of court records and statutes that demonstrate any impediments to Mr. Belden's pursuit of litigation did not violate his right of access to the courts because he has failed to show that he had a nonfrivolous claim... We affirm the judgment of the district court." See: Belden v. Lampert, 456 Fed.Appx. 715 (10th Cir. 2011).

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Related legal case

Gee v. Pacheco