Prisons

In Friday’s Non-Sequiturs, while linking to an interesting article about a man who served 27 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, I used an intentionally inflammatory blurb:

Would Michael Green, exonerated of rape charges by DNA evidence, be worth $2.2 million today if he hadn’t gone to prison? Just asking.

Judging from some of the comments, it seems that this blurb offended some of you. If so, I apologize.

(But I should also note that part of the blogger’s job is to troll provoke readers, intellectually and emotionally. Elie is tasked with baiting provoking the conservatives, and I’m in charge of provoking the liberals. If we don’t offend you every now and then, we’re not doing our jobs.)

In making my excessively irreverent quip, I was trying to get at a fairly serious question: How can we put a price on a man spending years behind bars for a crime he did not commit?

Let’s discuss….

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Lindsay Lohan claims her fingernails were not sending a message to the court.

When actress Lindsay Lohan was sentenced earlier this week to 90 days in jail for probation violations, she showed up in court with fabulous fingernails. If you’d like to learn about how to get the same look for your own nails, check out our sister site, Fashionista.

The tie-dye effect on LiLo’s nails was très cute — the profanity, not so much. After a photographic close-up showed “F**K U” stenciled on her nails, observers wondered if the message was directed at the judge — and whether it might constitute contempt of court. Lohan clarified, via Twitter, that the “F.U.” was not directed at Judge Marsha Revel. (For the record, though, Lohan does think Judge Revel is a “f**king bitch.”)

Still, it probably wasn’t advisable for Lohan to show up in court with profanity printed on her fingernails. Didn’t her attorney — or her former attorney, veteran litigatrix Shawn Chapman Holley, who recently quit the case — advise the actress about courtroom appearance and demeanor?

UPDATE: For the time being, Holley is still Lohan’s lawyer. Page Six reports that Judge Revel won’t allow Holley to leave the case until a substitution of counsel has been filed with the court.

In fairness to Lohan, she probably didn’t expect that the words on her fingernails would be seen. After all, they were only shown to the world thanks to extreme close-up shots by high-definition cameras — cameras that also captured her handwritten courthouse notes. (John Steele of Legal Ethics Forum wonders if this raises privilege issues.)

And perhaps Lindsay Lohan views herself as above the law — and the lawyers. As analysis of the starlet’s Twitter feed reveals, Lohan considers herself to be quite the legal eagle….

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Ian Graham is the author of Unbillable Hours: A True Story, which was published earlier this month. The book is a memoir of Graham’s time at Latham & Watkins, where he spent about five years as a litigation associate.

Unbillable Hours is not, however, a Latham exposé (which I’d eagerly read, by the way). Rather, the book centers on Graham’s work on a major pro bono case. The book’s publisher describes it as follows:

Landing a job at a prestigious L.A. law firm, complete with a six figure income, signaled the beginning of the good life for Ian Graham. But the harsh reality of life as an associate quickly became evident. The work was grueling and boring, the days were impossibly long, and Graham’s main goal was to rack up billable hours.

But when he took an unpaid pro bono case to escape the drudgery, Graham found the meaning in his work that he’d been looking for. As he worked to free Mario Rocha, a gifted young Latino who had been wrongly convicted at 16 and sentenced to life without parole, the shocking contrast between the quest for money and power and Mario’s desperate struggle for freedom led Graham to look long and hard at his future as a corporate lawyer.

Yesterday I chatted with Ian Graham about his book, his time at Latham, and how he made the transition from a legal career to a writing career.

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That’s the question the Supreme Court answered in the negative today, in Graham v. Florida. The Court’s opinion was by Justice Kennedy, whose vote usually controls on Eighth Amendment issues, and it was joined by the four liberal justices.

The case generated oodles and oodles of pages and a welter of separate opinions. Thankfully, the AP has a fairly clear and concise summary:

The Supreme Court has ruled that teenagers may not be locked up for life without chance of parole if they haven’t killed anyone.

By a 5-4 vote Monday, the court says the Constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release.

The court ruled in the case of Terrance Graham, who was implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17. Graham, now 22, is in prison in Florida, which holds more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for crimes other than homicide.

Florida: where it’s good to be an old person.

Interestingly enough, Chief Justice John Roberts — not known as a bleeding heart — agreed with the majority as to Terrance Graham specifically. Because he concurred in the judgment, the vote on the disposition of the case was actually 6-3.

The back-and-forth between the majority and the dissent gets quite heated at times. Justice Thomas wrote the main dissent, which Robert Barnes of the Washington Post described as “stinging.” But given the power that Justice Kennedy wields at One First Street, it’s generally unwise to attack him too harshly.

So the most snarky exchange did not involve Justice Kennedy, but took place between Justice Thomas and his soon-to-be-former colleague, Justice Stevens….

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Shon Hopwood.jpg“I used to be a bank robber.”

That’s an attention-grabbing lede for a personal essay for a law school application. Or:

“The Supreme Court granted my very first petition for cert. And then ruled in my favor unanimously.”

Shon Hopwood, 34, could start his application with either one of those statements. Convicted of five robberies in Nebraska in the late ’90s, he was sentenced to prison for 13 years, writes Adam Liptak in the New York Times:

Mr. Hopwood spent much of that time in the prison law library, and it turned out he was better at understanding the law than breaking it. He transformed himself into something rare at the top levels of the American bar, and unheard of behind bars — an accomplished Supreme Court practitioner.

Hopwood wrote a petition for cert for a fellow inmate, John Fellers, in 2002. Not only was it granted, veteran Supreme Court advocate Seth Waxman says, “It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read.”

High praise for a dude who doesn’t even have a law degree…

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Dungeons Dragons dice.JPGPredictably, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons in high school. Just as predictably, I didn’t lose my virginity until I stopped. It’s an established fact that Dungeons & Dragons is a bigger threat to human reproduction than all the gay marriages in the world.

But I did not know until this day that D&D could also pose a security risk. A Wisconsin prisoner, Kevin T. Singer, sued Wisconsin’s Waupun Correctional Institution after the guards confiscated his D&D materials.

Why did the prison guards take away this guy’s D&D paraphernalia? I’ll let Judge John Tinder of the Seventh Circuit explain:

Waupun’s long-serving Disruptive Group Coordinator, Captain Bruce Muraski, received an anonymous letter from an inmate. The letter expressed concern that Singer and three other inmates were forming a D&D gang and were trying to recruit others to join by passing around their D&D publications and touting the “rush” they got from playing the game. Muraski, Waupun’s expert on gang activity, decided to heed the letter’s advice and “check into this gang before it gets out of hand.”

A gang? A gang that needs to be checked? I’ve never been to prison, but I have watched Oz. I’m forced to believe one of two things: (a) any D&D “gang” member would find themselves tossing salads faster than you can say “saving throw against horrific prison justice … fails,” or (b) if you could beat up the D&D kids in your high school, then you can go to Wisconsin, commit violent crimes with impunity, get sent to prison and live like a God.

Singer sued the prison for violating his First Amendment rights. The district court ruled for the correctional facility on summary judgment, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Does that mean we get to hear the Seventh Circuit argue that D&D is gang-like? Yes it does. Will that be hilarious? More fun than hacking through an encampment of goblins with a dwarven ax of immolation….

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Allen Stanford Sir Robert Allen Stanford.jpgSir Allen Stanford, financier / accused fraudster, has some issues with the conditions of his pretrial confinement.
Read more and comment over at our sister site, Dealbreaker.
Sir Stanford Takes Issue With Conditions Behind Bars [Dealbreaker]

plaquemines parish levee prisoner inmates.jpgAs was widely reported in yesterday’s coverage of Hurricane Gustav, quick thinking and brute manpower relieved the pressure on a private levee in Plaquemines Parish. The levee protected a subdivision of a couple of hundred homes.
Nearly 400 people participated in saving the levee. Their ranks included residents, first responders, the Army Corps of Engineers… and an unconfirmed number of prison inmates who were pressed into service.
Most of the prisoners from New Orleans and surrounding areas were evacuated well ahead of Gustav’s landfall. In Orleans Parish, about 300 municipal prisoners were simply delivered out of bondage. Only violent municipal offenders were kept in custody and moved with the 2500 inmates held on more serious charges.
Yet there were still enough prisoners on hand to help out when the Plaquemines Parish levee weakened.
We spoke with Pam Laborde, a spokeswomen for the Louisiana Department of Corrections. She could not tell us which parish’s prisoners were involved in the levee saving efforts. However she was not surprised that there was extra muscle on hand.

It’s not unusual in those types of emergencies to hold a few people on a work crew back so that they are able to help perform certain functions keeping the city government working. Whether they run the kitchen or as a work crew for cleaning the roads or that type of thing.

It’s one thing to scrub a latrine, but prisoners who helped to save a levee that protected homes — and potentially saved lives — should merit a “get out of jail free” card.
Laborde did not know the specifics involving efforts of these particular inmates (or their crimes), but she said that generally no such special consideration is given for state prisoners who stay behind and in harm’s way. She did say that if they were municipal prisoners, any time off would be given at the discretion of the individual Sheriffs’ departments.
Not surprisingly, Plaquemines Parish Sheriff “Jiff” Hingle could not be reached for comment.
Lawlessness can be a common occurrence during natural disasters, but apparently not all of it is bad.
Concerns about New Orleans-area levee ease [CNN]

* Fed cuts fed funds rate by 0.75%, but stocks are still lower. [AP; New York Times; Washington Post]
* Clinton and Obama get snippy with each other in debate, raising questions about each other’s legal work. [Washington Post; New York Times; WSJ Law Blog]
* SCOTUS denies review in gigantic Enron-related investors’ lawsuit. [SCOTUSblog via How Appealing]
* Statutory interpretation makes for strange bedfellows in 5-4 ruling in Ali v. Federal Bureau of Prisons. [SCOTUSblog (PDF) via How Appealing]
* New York City revisits the issue of forced disclosure of calorie counts by restaurants. [AP via Drudge]

Under Armour Under Armor underwear briefs Guantanamo Bay Above the Law blog.jpgHere’s a quick follow-up to our prior coverage of the mysterious Under Armour briefs that somehow made their way into the hands, and onto the loins, of Guantanamo Bay detainees. From Reuters:

The U.S. military has ended an inquiry into who smuggled unauthorized underwear and a bathing suit to two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without learning the source of the contraband skivvies, an attorney said on Wednesday.

The investigators concluded more vigilance was needed to prevent contraband from entering the camp that holds 330 suspected al Qaeda operatives, said Capt. Pat McCarthy, the military’s chief lawyer for the detention operation at Guantanamo.

Is the inability to solve the Riddle of the Briefs a sad commentary on the state of military intelligence? Or is this perhaps a mystery that they didn’t want to be solved?
Mystery underwear stymies Guantanamo investigators [Reuters]
Earlier: Guantanamo Bay Perk Watch: Under Armor Briefs!

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