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Jailhouse Lawyer

JAILHOUSE LAWYER - A prison or jail inmate who assists other inmates with litigation.

An inmate's First Amendment right to assist other inmates with litigation was first recognized in Johnson v. Avery, 393 U.S. 483, 490 ('69). But that case also made clear that the right could be restricted. '[T]he state may impose reasonable restrictions and restraints upon the acknowledged propensity of prisoners to abuse both the giving and the seeking of assistance in the preparation of applications for relief.' Id. at 490. Restrictions may limit the time and place of such activities, id., but they must be 'reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.' Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 ('87); Bradley v. Hall, No. 94-35844, slip op. 10511, 10521-2 (9th Cir.8/23/95)(finding under Turner that prison 'disrespect rule' as applied to inmate was not reasonably related to legitimate penological interests because it burdened his ability to file grievances). Limitations may not be imposed arbitrarily or without reason.

In enacting restrictions on 'jailhouse lawyers,' many courts have implicitly adopted the proposition that there is a fundamental right to provide legal assistance. Within Johnson's guarantee of the right of mutual inmate assistance is the derivative right, vested in 'jailhouse lawyers,' to provide legal assistance to others. See Adams v. James, 784 F.2d 1077, 81 (11th Cir.'86) (a properly stated First Amendment claim by an inmate does not fail simply because the activities were conducted on behalf of others); Vaughn v. Trotter, 516 F.Supp. 886, 93 (M.D.Tenn.'80) ('The clear right to receive assistance necessarily creates the concomitant right to provide it.'). 'Logic demands that if inmate mutual assistance is constitutionally required, the state, through its agents, may not harass, intimidate, or otherwise interfere with those inmates who have undertaken to provide legal assistance to other inmates.' Id. at 892-3.

Proper time, place, and manner restrictions could be adopted by the prison to curtail the First Amendment rights of 'jailhouse lawyers.' See, e.g.,Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 91 ('89) (application of time, place and manner analysis to a First Amendment claim).

The right of mutual legal assistance among inmates is ultimately to protect and aid 'the blind, illiterate, and mentally handicapped...' Vaughn, 516 F.Supp. at 892.

Caselaw relative to jailhouse lawyers:

SHAW et al. v. MURPHY
Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court. Under our decision in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), restrictions on prisoners communications to other inmates are constitutional if the restrictions are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Id., at 89. In this case, we are asked to decide whether prisoners possess a First Amendment right to provide legal assistance that enhances the protections otherwise available under Turner. We hold that they do not.

Smith v. Bounds, 538 F.2d 541 (4th Cir. 1975), aff'd Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817,97 S.Ct. 1491, 52 L.Ed.2d 72 (1977).
Landmark case which states that prison authorities must assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with "adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law."

Casey v. Lewis, 834 F.Supp. 1553 (D.Ariz. 1992), aff'd in part, vac'd in part and rem'd 43 F.3d 1261 (9th Cir. 1994), rev'd and rem'd sub nom. Lewis v. Casey, 116 S.Ct. 2174, 135 L.Ed.2d 606 (1996).
Significant decision stating that Bounds did not create an abstract, free-standing right to a law library or legal assistance; rather, the constitutional right is "access to the courts." The manner in which access is provided is left to the discretion of corrections officials. This right is limited to nonfrivolous lawsuits that attack prison sentences or challenge the conditions of confinement. In claiming denial of "access to the courts", the inmate must show "actual injury." Establishing that his prison's law library or legal assistance program is sub-par in some theoretical sense is not enough. The remedy is limited to the inadequacy that produced the injury-in-fact that the plaintiff establishes.


To obtain a video tape of THE JAILHOUSE LAWYER'S 4 hour Seminar ($125) or a copy of THE JAILHOUSE LAWYER'S Criminal Self Defense Manual ($145) please send a postal money order only to: Scott Thurston, C/o P.O. Box 373, Juliaetta, Idaho 83535. THE JAILHOUSE LAWYER'S Seminar Video and THE JAILHOUSE LAWYER'S Criminal Self Defense Manual will give Pro Se litigants and legal laymen valuable and useful knowledge that will help equip them to do strategic battle in the courts. Learn how to demand your rights and defend yourself when you are falsley and/or wrongfully accused.

Jailhouse Lawyers & Pro Se Law

9th Circuit Feels Pro Se Pressure

Pro se litigants have created a logjam in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has seen a 39 percent increase in the last few years in cases filed by those who represent themselves.

Shon R. Hopwood - Top Jailhouse Lawyer

A former bank robber, Shon R. Hopwood emerged from more than a decade in federal prison as a skilled Supreme Court practitioner

Murderer Victorious on Appeal

He shot 17 years of his life away and then made a name for himself on the inside. "He's rude, abrasive, hyperbolic and wildly emotional. In other words, a born lawyer. The most effective jailhouse advocate I've ever met. He also may be the last true believer in the fairness of the American criminal justice system."

A Jailhouse Lawyer Story

"The best person I ever tried a case against wasn't a real lawyer. He was a jailhouse lawyer."

Jailhouse lawyer wins Ohio Supreme Court case

"A jailhouse lawyer has won his case against the Adult Parole Authority before the Ohio Supreme Court."

On the Process of the Court

There is to be ONE interface between the people and the state, and that is the ONE lawful court and ONE lawful process NOT a representative manipulating the case and the record, in violation of the public trust. SEE through the deceptions.

Convict fires lawyer, wins acquittal on murder charge

A felon who fired his lawyer and represented himself won an acquittal in a murder case that could have kept him in prison for life.

Overcoming The Absurd: Legal Struggle As Primitive Rebellion

When conditions of existence become unsatisfactory, people may either acquiesce or resist. One reform strategy that has come into vogue since the social activism of the 1960s has been the use of law. Are those who use law in attempts to change the conditions of social existence rebels, revolutionaries, or merely ineffective idealists? Drawing upon themes in existential literature as a heuristic guide, we address this question by looking at one category of active litigants, prison jailhouse lawyers (JHLs).

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