Criminal Law and Procedure Decisions: Shaw v. Murphy</titl <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS Feed for FindLaw Legal News Top Headlines" href="" /> <link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="RSS Feed for FindLaw Writ Legal Commentary" href="" /> <body itemscope itemtype=""> <!-- SiteCatalyst code version: H.20.3. Copyright 1997-2009 Omniture, Inc. 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Murphy</ul><P align="center"><b>Prisoners’ Rights – LegalCorrespondence</b></p><p><b>Case: <a href="">Shaw v. Murphy</a></b></p><p><b>Issue</b>: Whether inmate-to-inmate correspondence thatincludes legal assistance is entitled to greater protection underthe First Amendment than inmate-to-inmate correspondence that doesnot contain legal assistance.</p><p><b>Facts</b>: Respondent Kevin Murphy was incarcerated inMontana State Prison where he served as an “inmate law clerk” byproviding legal assistance to fellow inmates. Upon learning thatfellow inmate Tracy had been charged with assaulting CorrectionalOfficer Glen Galle, Murphy decided to assist Tracy with hisdefense. The prison refused Murphy’s assignment to the case,however, because prison rules prohibited high-security inmates suchas Murphy from meeting with maximum-security inmates such as Tracy.Although prison officials provided Tracy with another legal clerk,Murphy nonetheless investigated the alleged assault. Following hisinvestigation, Murphy wrote Tracy a letter offering legal adviceand leveling charges of wrongdoing against Officer Galle that mighthave been significant to Tracy’s defense. In accordance withprison policy, prison officials intercepted and reviewed theletter. Based upon the accusations Murphy had made against OfficerGalle, Murphy was cited for insolence, interference with dueprocess hearings, and conduct that interferes with the security andorderly operation of the institution. After a hearing, Murphy wasfound guilty of the first two prohibitions and was sanctioned witha suspended sentence and demerits that potentially affected hiscustody level.</p><p>Murphy filed an action in United States District Court, seekingdeclaratory and injunctive relief under <a href="">42 U.S.C. § 1983</a>. Thecomplaint alleged that the prison’s disciplinary hearingviolated due process, inmates’ rights to access to courts, andMurphy’s own First Amendment rights, including the right toprovide legal assistance to other inmates. The District Courtgranted summary judgment for the State. On the First Amendmentclaim, the District Court found that, under the test established in<a href="">Turner v. Safley</a>, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), [“[W]hen a prisonregulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, theregulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimatepenological interests”] the prison regulations regarding inmatecorrespondence were reasonably related to the objectives of prisonorder and safety and prisoner rehabilitation, and were thereforconstitutional. The United States Court of Appeals for the NinthCircuit reversed. “It premised its analysis on the proposition that‘inmates have a First Amendment right to assist other inmateswith their legal claims.’” The Ninth Circuit applied theCourt’s <U>Turner</U> decision, “but it did so only againstthe backdrop of this First Amendment right.” It held thatMurphy’s First Amendment right to assist Tracy with thelatter’s legal claims “affected the balance of theprisoner’s interests against the government’s interests.”The Ninth Circuit concluded that the balance tipped in favor ofMurphy and thus upheld his First Amendment claim.</p><p><b>Holding</b>: Prisoners possess no First Amendment right toprovide legal advice that enhances the protection otherwiseavailable under <U>Turner</U>.</p><p><b>Reasoning</b>: The Court, in a unanimous opinion by JusticeThomas, held that inmate-to-inmate correspondence that includedlegal assistance received no greater First Amendment protectionthan correspondence without any legal assistance. The Courtstressed that it was not being “asked to decide whether prisonershave <U>any</U> First Amendment rights when they send legalcorrespondence to one another.” In fact, <U>Turner</U> itself waspremised in part on the notion that prisoners have limited FirstAmendment rights. Prisoners clearly retain certain constitutionalrights while incarcerated, although those rights are often limitedin scope due to the penological needs of the prison system.</p><p>Reflecting the realization that “courts are particularly‘ill equipped’ to deal with [the problems of prisons inAmerica],” the Court in <U>Turner</U> had adopted a deferentialstandard for review of a prisoner’s constitutional claims:“[W]hen a prison regulation impinges on inmates’constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonablyrelated to legitimate penological interests.” Under this standard,four factors are relevant. “First and foremost, ‘there must bea valid, rational connection between the prison regulation and thelegitimate and neutral interest put forward to justify it.’”The three other factors that a court must consider are, “theexistence of alternative means of exercising the right available tothe inmates; the impact [that] accommodation of the assertedconstitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and onthe allocation of prison resources generally; and, the absence ofready alternatives available to the prison for achieving thegovernmental objectives.”</p><p>Since “<U>Turner</U> provides the test for evaluatingprisoners’ First Amendment challenges, the issue before us iswhether <U>Turner</U> permits an increase in constitutionalprotection whenever a prisoner’s communication includes legaladvice. We conclude that it does not.” To permit increasedconstitutional protection based upon the content of a particularkind of communication requires an assessment of that content’svalue. “But the <U>Turner</U> test, by its terms, simply does notaccommodate valuations of content.” Under <U>Turner</U>, prisonofficials remain the primary arbiters of problems in prison. Ifcourts were to start enhancing constitutional protection based onthe contents of particular communications, courts would be assuminga much greater role in decisions affecting prison administration.“Seeking to avoid ‘unnecessarily perpetuating the involvementof federal courts in affairs of prison administration,’” theCourt rejected the Ninth Circuit’s alteration of the<U>Turner</U> analysis. Finally, even if it were to providecontent-based special protection to certain kinds of speech, theCourt held that it would not do so for inmate-to-inmatecorrespondence that contains legal advice, reasoning that anincrease of First Amendment protection for inmate legal advice“would undermine prison officials’ ability to address the‘complex and intractable’ problems of prisonadministration.”</p><p><b>Other Opinions</b>: In a concurring opinion, Justice Ginsburgmade two observations. First, Murphy did not challenge theprison’s right to intercept and review prisoner-to-prisonercorrespondence. Second, Murphy’s § 1983 challenge to theprison rules under which he was disciplined, as being vague andoverbroad, was not addressed by the Ninth Circuit. The Court’sremand to the Ninth Circuit, therefore, should not impede Murphyfrom reasserting that claim.</p><p></p><p><b>Comment</b>: The question of whether the particular prisonregulations in question, as applied to Murphy, were “reasonablyrelated to legitimate penological concerns” under the <U>Turner</U>test was not addressed by the Court. 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