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Prisoner Education Guide

South Dakota Prisoner Fights Porn Ban in Federal Court

by Edward B. Lyon, Jr.

Charles E. Sisney, serving a life sentence since 1997, has been active in the courts on prison-related issues for years. His latest target is the 2014 version of the South Dakota Department of Corrections’ (SDDOC) pornography policy, which prohibits state prisoners from purchasing, possessing or manufacturing pornography or pornographic writings, and bans pornography in both incoming and outgoing correspondence. The 2014 policy superseded an earlier, less inclusive policy.

Specifically, Sisney challenged the censorship and rejection of various publications that were mailed to him, including “two erotic novels, Thrones of Desire and Pride and Prejudice: The Wild and Wanton Edition, as well as four Japanese manga comics from a series called Pretty Face, nine images of Renaissance artworks depicting nudity, a book on Matisse and Picasso, and a poster featuring the iconic Coppertone suntan-girl advertisement.”

The district court granted summary judgment for Sisney, invalidating the 2014 policy “on its face.” The court then resurrected the superseded 2000 policy and used it to rule on all but one of Sisney’s as-applied challenges in his favor.

The SDDOC appealed and Sisney cross-appealed. The South Dakota American Civil Liberties Union and the National Coalition Against Censorship filed amicus briefs on his behalf. Although Sisney was successful in his pro se representation in the district court, appellate counsel was appointed for him before the Eighth Circuit.

Notwithstanding the various arguments of the parties and amici, the Court of Appeals chose not to rule on any of them. Instead, on March 30, 2018, the Court held the district court had erred by striking down the 2014 SDDOC policy, then impermissibly applying the superseded 2000 policy to evaluate Sisney’s claims. Rather, the lower court should have first determined the as-applied challenges before considering whether the 2014 policy – which was significantly different from the prior policy – was facially unconstitutional.

The Eighth Circuit opted to vacate the summary judgment order so the district court could reevaluate Sisney’s claims under the 2014 policy, which he had actually challenged. The case remains pending on remand. Sisney was represented on appeal by North Dakota attorney Steven R. Morrison. See: Sisney v. Kaemingk, 886 F.3d 692 (8th Cir. 2018), rehearing denied, rehearing en banc denied. 

Additional source: www.capjournal.com

 

Related legal case

Sisney v. Kaemingk


 

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