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Articles by Douglas Ankney

Eighth Circuit Rules District Court Must Use Federal Law for Admissibility of Expert Testimony

by Douglas Ankney

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit agreed with Plaintiff Craig Shipp that a district court erred when it failed to rely on federal law in determining the admissibility of the testimony of Shipp’s expert, but in this case the error was harmless.

Shipp was ...

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Illegal Juvenile LWOP Sentence Undermined Validity of Later Conviction

by Douglas Ankney 

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that an illegal mandatory sentence of life without parole (“LWOP”) imposed upon a juvenile undermined the validity of a later conviction for assault by a life prisoner predicated on the LWOP.

In 1970, James Henry Cobbs was 17 years old when ...

Federal District Court Orders All CDCR Employees be Vaccinated

by Douglas Ankney

On September 27, 2021, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California ordered implementation of the Receiver’s recommendations that “(1) access by workers to CDCR institutions be limited to those workers who establish proof of full vaccination or who have established a religious or medical exemption to vaccination and (2) incarcerated persons who desire to work outside of the institution or to have in-person visitation must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or establish a religious or medical exemption.”

Since 2005, the California prison medical care system has been under federally-ordered receivership [See PLN, Mar. 2006, pg.1]. COVID-19 falls under the Receiver’s authority. Until the dispute over mandatory vaccination, Defendants Gavin Newsom and others, including California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employees, followed the Receiver’s recommendations. Beginning in April 2020, the Court had conducted regular case management conferences focused almost exclusively on pandemic management that were attended by the parties and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the union which represents guards. Defendants cooperated with the Receiver by implementing measures to distance prisoners from one another; implementing a transfer matrix to reduce risk of transmission caused by movement of prisoners; implementing staff ...

Fourth Circuit Rules Prisoner Sex Offender has No Right to In-Person Visitation with His Minor Children

by Doug Ankney

James Desper is a convicted sex offender incarcerated at the Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville, Virginia. For six years, Desper received visits from his minor child without incident. None of Desper’s crimes or convictions involved his child. But in March 2014, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) amended Operating Procedure 851.1 (OP 851.1).

As amended, OP 851.1 prohibits prisoners who are required to register on Virginia’s Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry from having in-person visits with minors unless the prisoner receives an exemption from prison officials. Desper’s child was removed from his list of approved visitors and the two could no longer visit. Desper twice applied for an exemption but his applications were denied without any reason given. Desper filed suit against several officials from the VDOC alleging his right to association under the First Amendment, as well as his rights under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment were denied. The district court granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss and Desper appealed.

The Fourth Circuit observed “[w]hile ‘[p]rison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution,’ Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), ...

Supreme Court Reverses Qualified Immunity Dismissal of Texas Prisoner’s Excessive Force Claim

by Douglas Ankney

In December 2016, Prince McCoy Jr. was confined in a segregation cell at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas. The prisoner in the cell adjacent to McCoy’s threw water on Officer Tajudeen Alamu. Alamu left and the prisoner covered the front of his cell with bedding. Alamu returned with pepper spray. Frustrated that he could not spray the prisoner who had thrown the water, Alamu sprayed McCoy.

McCoy filed suit in federal district court in 2017, alleging excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The district court relied on Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 112 S. Ct. 995 (1992) and ruled in Alamu’s favor. The district court determined that McCoy had failed to show that Alamu’s assault was excessive or malicious and that McCoy’s injuries were minor.

McCoy appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that Alamu had indeed violated McCoy’s Eighth Amendment rights but ruled in Alamu’s favor on qualified immunity grounds. In a nutshell, the Court determined that because there wasn’t any circuit precedent with similar material facts to inform correctional officers that spraying prisoners with pepper spray without provocation or justification violated the Eighth Amendment, it was ...

US Marshalls Terminate Contract with GEO Snitch Camp at Queens NY Detention Facility

by Douglas Ankney

On March 16, 2021, the Queens Daily Eagle reported that the federal government had declined to renew a contract with for-profit prison contractor GEO Group to operate the Queens Detention Facility (QDF). QDF was New York City’s last privately-operated jail.

GEO contracted with the U.S. Marshalls Service ...

California Begins Transfer of Prisoners to Facilities Consistent with Prisoners’ Gender Identity

by Douglas Ankney

In 2020, California enacted Senate Bill No. 132, the Transgender Respect, Agency, and Dignity Act (SB 132). SB 132 requires, inter alia, that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) house prisoners “in a correctional facility designated for men or women based on the individual’s preference” ...

District Court Extends Armstrong Order to Five Additional California Prisons

Judge Orders Facilities Housing Disabled Prisoners
to Install Surveillance and Body Cameras

by Derek Gilna and Doug Ankney

On March 11, 2021, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in the Northern District of California ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to require its guards to wear body cameras and install ...

District Court Certifies Class Status in Louisville Jail Overdetention of Prisoners’ Suit

In February 2017, plaintiffs Jacob Healy, James Michael Jarvis, Jr., Cynthia Dawn Yates, and ...

Connecticut Prisoner Population Lowest in Over Three Decades Due to Coronavirus