LOCATION:Attorney General’s Office of MA
DOCKET NO.: 99-1613
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 532 US 223 (2001)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 2001
DECIDED: Apr 18, 2001
David L. Ohler – Helena, Montana, argued the cause for petitioners
Jeffrey T. Renz – Argued the cause for the respondent
Patricia A. Millett – Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the petitioners
Facts of the case
While incarcerated in Montana State Prison, Kevin Murphy sent a letter to an inmate to assist him with his defense after he assaulted a correctional officer. In accordance with prison policy, the letter was intercepted. Based on the letter’s content, the prison sanctioned Murphy for violating prison rules prohibiting insolence and interfering with due process hearings. Murphy sought relief, alleging that the disciplinary action violated his First Amendment rights, including the right to provide legal assistance to other inmates. Ruling against Murphy, the District Court, based on precedent, found that reasonably related penological interests allowed the prison regulations to impinge on an inmate’s constitutional rights. In reversing, the Court of Appeals found that an inmate’s First Amendment right to give legal assistance to other inmates outweighed the government’s interests.
Do prison inmates have a constitutional right to provide legal assistance to fellow inmates?
Media for Shaw v. Murphy
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 18, 2001 in Shaw v. Murphy
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court in No. 99-1613, Shaw against Murphy will be announced by Justice Thomas.
This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
While Kevin Murphy was incarcerated in state prison, he learned that a fellow inmate had been charged with assaulting a correctional officer.
Murphy decided to assist the inmate with his defense and sent him a letter to this effect.
The prison intercepted this letter in accordance with prison policy.
Based on the letter’s content, the prison sanctioned Murphy for violating prison rules prohibiting insolence and interfering with due process hearings.
Murphy sought relief under Section 1983 alleging violation of the First Amendment including the right to provide legal assistance to other inmates.
The District Court rejected this claim but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.
According to the Court of Appeals prisoner’s have a First Amendment right to give legal assistance to other inmates, the effect of this holding is that prisoner correspondence containing legal advice is entitle to more constitutional protection then prisoner correspondence not containing such advice.
In an opinion filed with the Clerk today we reverse and remand.
In Turner v. Safley this Court set a unitary standard for reviewing prisoners’ constitutional claims.
Under this test a prison regulation impinging on inmates’ constitutional rights is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.
Turner does not permit an increase in constitutional protection when a prisoner’s communication includes legal advice.
The value of a communication is not relevant to Turner analysis which concerns only the relationship between the assorted penological interest and the prison regulation.
Justice Ginsburg has filed a concurring opinion.