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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

Second Circuit Holds Confidential Informant's Reliability Alone Insufficient to Support Hearsay or Conclusionary Statements

Second Circuit Holds Confidential Informant's Reliability Alone
Insufficient to Support Hearsay or Conclusionary Statements

By David M. Reutter

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has held that prison officials, in assessing the reliability of evidence at a prisoner's disciplinary hearing, must reference the totality of the circumstances and that an informant's record for reliability cannot, by itself, establish the reliability of bald conclusions or third-party hearsay. The court, however, held this issue was not clearly established and prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity.

This 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action was filed by New York prisoner Rubin Sira, alleging events that transpired at Green Haven Correctional Facility (GHCF) in 2000. That complaint alleged prison officials violated Sira's due process rights by finding him guilty (1) based upon insufficient evidence, (2) without providing him adequate notice of the charges, (3) without affording access to confidential evidence relevant to his defense, (4) without assessing the reliability of various confidential sources of incriminating information, and (5) without disclosing the confidential documentary evidence against him. Prison officials denied the allegations, moving for judgment on the pleadings based on qualified immunity. The Southern District of New York denied the motion ...

New Jersey's Five Percenters an STG and a Religion

by David M. Reutter

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a New Jersey federal district court's grant of a motion for summary judgment in separate 42 U.S.C. §1983 actions filed by prisoner's Joel Fraise, Alexander Kettles, and John Harris. Their suits challenged the constitutionality of a New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) policy that allows prison officials to designate "security threat groups" (STG), transfer core members of these groups to a special housing unit (SHU), and keep them there indefinitely.

The policy identifies a prisoner as a core member if he has a documented status of satisfying one or more of the following conditions: (1) an STG member; (2) has taken part/role in an activity, behavior, or involvement in an event/incident associated with an STG; (3) the prisoner's activity, behavior, or involvement in an event/incident that poses a threat to the safety of the staff, other prisoners, or the community; caused damage to, or destruction of property; caused interruption of the safe, secure, and orderly running of the prison; (4) identified as an STG member and been found guilty of a serious disciplinary infraction. Once placed in SHU, core members ...

No Qualified Immunity Defense for Florida Beatings

by David M. Reutter

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that prison guards at the Florida State Prison (FSP) who beat prisoner David. C. Skrtich are not entitled to dismissal. Two of the defendants, Timothy A. Thornton and Jason P. Griffis, are the same guards recently acquitted in the Frank Valdez murder. ["Another Murder by Florida Guards, Another Acquittal," PLN, Aug. `02.] Thornton and Grffis appealed the denial of their motion to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds. The other defendants, guards Willie Archie, James E. Dean, Stacey L. Green, and Tony Anderson appealed the denial of their motion for summary judgment on the same grounds.

Skrtich was on close management at FSP as a result of an extensive disciplinary history, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for repeatedly stabbing a guard, and had been the subject of several cell extractions in the past. On January 13, 1998 Skrtich refused to vacate his cell so it could be searched. Griffis, Archie, Dean, and Green arrived at Skrtich's cell in riot gear, and Thornton directed them to enter the cell to extract Skrtich. Griffis entered the cell with an electronic shield and shocked Skrtich, knocking him to the ...

BOP Communion Wine Ban Challenged

by David M. Reutter

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has reversed the grant of summary judgment favoring prison officials in a Bivens action filed by Catholic Christian prisoners at the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola, Florida, which challenged the BOP's rule prohibiting prisoners from receiving Communion Wine during rituals, but "the staff or contract chaplain may consume small amounts of wine for performance of the ritual."

The prisoners practice as part of their religion the Eucharist sacrament, which is called Holy Communion. Communion is administered after a priest consecrates the bread and wine, and the prisoners believe the bread transforms into the body of Jesus Christ and the wine into his blood. The priest can present the wine through several methods, and until the new rule became effective the prisoners received it through intinction method. Intinction is the dipping of the transformed bread into the wine and consuming the bread. The prisoners, in their complaint, stated their belief is its "the command of the Lord Jesus Christ to consume both the bread and wine" during the Eucharist sacrament. Prison officials entered into the record letters from a Catholic nun and the local Bishop, who stated ...

Florida PLN Writer Settles Retaliation Suit for $3,000

by David M. Reutter

A 42 U. S. C. § 1983 action filed in a Florida State Court alleging retaliatory job changes for the filing of grievances and lawsuits that challenged the general living conditions at Glades Correctional Institution (GCI) has been settled for $3,000. In June 1993, David Reutter ...

Florida's Rush to Disenfranchise Felons Before the 2004 Election

By David M. Reutter

After George W. Bush won Florida by 537 votes in the 2000 election, an uproar arose when it was learned that election supervisors, using a list compiled by an Atlanta firm, had mistakenly identified voters as felons and purged them from voter rolls. Some supervisors mistakenly allowed actual felons to vote or turned away legitimate voters as suspected felons. Florida is one of six states that imposes a lifetime civil and voting rights ban on anyone convicted of a felony.

It is unknown how many valid voters were disenfranchised, but the resulting outcry led to the purchase of new voting machines and the reform of Florida election laws. The new process requires election supervisors to send certified letters to suspected felons. If they do not respond, they are removed from voter rolls. Civil groups lament the unfairness of putting the burden of proof on the voter.

In mid-May 2004, the state provided county election supervisors a list of 48,000 possible felons. Those supervisors are trying to develop safeguards in addition to the certified letters. "We have to identify a proper procedure to ensure that anyone removed is actually a felon," said Ion Sancho, the Levin ...

Denial of Nation of Islam Literature Unconstitutional

by David M. Reutter

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that prison officials' refusal to allow prisoners to receive Nation of Islam literature was unconstitutional, but prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity from money damages for their illegal actions. Pennsylvania prisoners Richard X. Sutton, Robert X. Wise, and Michael X. Walker were placed on Special Management Unit at the State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill (SCI). Pursuant to Administrative Directives 801 and 802, they were limited to a personal Bible, Holy Koran, or other religious equivalent.

The prisoners requested access to various texts written by Fard Muhammad and Louis Farrakan from their personal property. Camp Hill's Muslim Chaplain Adeeb Rasheed was asked by the property room guard if the requested texts were religious. Rasheed determined they were not religious. The prisoners then filed grievances. Reverend James W. Smith, the Facility Chaplian Program Director, and Father Frances T. Menei, Administrator of Religious and Family Services, examined the requested texts. Their response to the grievance found the books are not essentially religious in nature and they "smack of racism and hatred." The prisoners then filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging First Amendment violations. The district ...

Punitive Damages Are Prospective Relief Under PLRA

by David M. Reutter

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the PLRA makes punitive damages prospective relief that requires the district court to make a factual finding the award is narrowly drawn to correct the violation of the Federal right. This appeal was filed by defendant guards ...

Florida DOC Ordered to Assist Felons Restore Their Voting Rights

Florida DOC Ordered to Assist Felons Restore their Voting Rights

by David M. Reutter

A Florida circuit court has ordered the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to assist ex-felons who did not receive help in the application process for restoration of their civil rights as required by state law. Florida is one of six states that imposes a lifetime civil and voting rights ban on anyone convicted of a felony. The loss of civil rights takes away not only the right to vote but also the right to hold public office, serve on a jury, and qualify for certain types of state occupational licenses required for many jobs.

The FDOC, pursuant to § 944.293 Florida Statutes, is required to assist those who are about to be released from custody or supervision in the filing of an application for restoration of their civil rights. Between 1992 and 2001, the FDOC admits it failed to assist 124,769 offenders in filing the Office of Executive Clemency (OEC) application for civil rights restoration. As many as 30,000 of those offenders qualify for rights restoration without a hearing. The remaining offenders require a hearing before their rights are restored; that process often ...

Preliminary Injunction Granted to Religious Objector of Tuberculosis Skin Test

by David M. Ruetter

A New York federal district court has granted a preliminary injunction to a prisoner who objected on religious grounds, to taking a Purified Protein Derivative Test(PPD) to detect tuberculosis (TB). In a previous unpublished opinion, the court held the religious rights of Selam Selah, a prisoner at Auburn Correctional Facility, were substantially burdened by the New York State Department of Correctional Services (NYDOCS) policy of requiring mandatory PPD tests. When Selah asserted his religious objections and refused a PPD test, he was placed in tuberculin hold.

The court held a two day hearing on Selah's motion for a preliminary injunction and found three forms of TB exist: (1) Latent TB is where one has been exposed to and contracted TB but suffers no adverse effects; (2) Active TB is where one becomes ill throughout the body; and. (3)Active Contagious TB is where the lungs are infected and the disease is capable of spreading by sharing air space with others. The court also found there are three methods to detect TB: (1)PPD test, which is the injection of a substance containing a derivative of TB that causes a skin reaction; (2) Chest x-rays ...


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