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Federal Prisoners’ Limited Options for Bureau of Prisons’ Loss and Damage of Property

Mitchell Schwartz, Columbia Law School Class of 2018

There are nearly 200,000 federal prisoners in the United States. All medically-able, federal prisoners are required to work[1] and typical wages range from 12¢ to 40¢ per hour (before withholding for restitution and fine payments).[2] During incarceration, prisoners are provided with little beyond basic necessities. Anything else must be purchased through the prison commissary. So, any property they accumulate is highly valued and is typically a product of hours of work. For example, a minimum wage worker, with no withholdings for restitution or fine payments, would have to work 12 hours to afford to purchase one roll of dental floss.[3]

Prisoners are frequently transferred between facilities, and their property is often lost or damaged during the process. Currently, federal prisoners are left with few to no options to seek compensation for their lost property. Confusion and misinformation of available remedies continues to persist. The BOP’s current Program Statement, and some Institutional Handbooks include incorrect statements of the law regarding damaged property. This article is intended to educate on what the Federal Tort Claims Act is, how federal courts have interpreted it as a remedy for property damage, and how the Administrative Remedy Program factors in as a possible remedy.

The Federal Tort Claims Act – Suing the Government

The Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) is one of the few ways an individual citizen may sue the federal government directly.[4] The federal government is usually exempt from lawsuits, so the federal government must waive its sovereign immunity before it can be sued.[5] The FTCA allows federal government to be sued when “any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment” by “negligent or wrongful act or omission” causes “injury or loss of property.”[6] Congress has carved out certain exceptions where it will not waive its sovereign immunity under the FTCA. One of these exceptions, 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c), has an unfortunate and disparate impact on prisoners incarcerated in Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) facilities. Section 2680(c) states that the FTCA does not apply to “[a]ny claim arising in respect of…the detention of any goods, merchandise, or other property by any…law enforcement officer.”[7]

In its 1984 opinion in Kosak v. United States, the Supreme Court provided a clear interpretation of section 2680(c)’s language. Kosak construed the term “arising in respect of” as “sweep[ing] within the exception all injuries associated in any way with the ‘detention’ of goods.”[8] In this “sweeping,” the Court stated that the exception includes a “claim resulting from negligent handling or storage of detained property.”[9] In 2008, the Supreme Court, in Ali v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, clarified that section 2680(c)’s language of “any…law enforcement officer” includes BOP officers. On this basis, the Ali court dismissed an FTCA claim of a federal prisoner who, after being transferred between federal penitentiaries, discovered that some of his property was missing.[10] Ali therefore stands for the proposition that loss of prisoners’ property by the BOP is not a legitimate basis for an FTCA claim.

Less than a year after the Ali decision, federal courts across the country were grappling with the Supreme Court’s definitive ruling.

The FTCA and Federal Prisoner Transfers

In Daley v. United States, a federal prisoner filed an FTCA claim in the District of Arizona, alleging that, following his transfer between two facilities, $2,202 worth of his property was missing.[11] The court granted the United States’ motion to dismiss on the grounds that the prisoner’s claim was “barred by the FTCA’s exception for detention of goods by any law enforcement officer.” The Daley court considered it “well settled” that section 2860(c) bars any FTCA claim “‘arising out of’ the detention of goods, and includes a claim resulting from the negligent handling or storage of detained property.”[12] The plaintiff in Daley asserted that his claim was not about the “detention of his property, but rather the violation of policies and protocols.”[13] The court rejected this argument because (1) the FTCA “maintains sovereign immunity for the entire universe of claims against law enforcement officers … ‘arising in respect of’ the ‘detention’ of property,” and (2) violations of protocols “are not, by themselves, actionable under the FTCA.”[14] The prisoner did not assert in his complaint that his property was stolen or willfully destroyed, but simply that the property had gone missing.

In Ikelionwu v. Nash, the Third Circuit upheld a district court’s dismissal of an FTCA complaint filed by a prisoner whose “personal property and legal documents…were allegedly misplaced” during a transfer between federal facilities.[15] Before bringing the FTCA claim in district court, the plaintiff rejected a $150 offer to settle from the BOP. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that sovereign immunity had been waived when (1) “the BOP settlement offer informed him that he could institute a suit against the United States if he did not accept the settlement;” and (2) “Defendant-Appellee [Fort Dix Warden] admitted in his first motion to dismiss that [plaintiff’s] suit was properly filed under the FTCA.”[16] The Third Circuit rejected plaintiff’s contention of waiver, because “neither courts nor government officials can effectuate a waiver of sovereign immunity.”[17]

Confusingly, the BOP’s Program Statement on the FTCA and some institutional handbooks have not been updated to reflect the Ali decision. As of February 2017, the most recent Program Statement on the BOP website regarding the FTCA is dated 2003. The FTCA Program Statement includes the current Code of Federal Regulations (“C.F.R.”), which states that a claim may be filed if a prisoner is “the owner of … damaged or lost property.”[18] Further, at least one federal facility handbook, dated 2016, includes language in contradiction with Ali:

Federal Tort Claim: If the negligence of the institution staff results in personal injury or property loss or damage to property, it can be the basis of a claim under the FEDERAL TORT CLAIM ACT. To file such a claim, inmates must complete a STANDARD FORM 95. They can obtain this form from the Safety Manager or Unit Team.[19]

Due to the Ikelionwu decision, it is doubtful that the Handbook’s language could be used as a basis for asserting waiver of sovereign immunity. However, filing a Standard Form 95 (“SF-95”) may lead to some success, since the BOP had offered to settle in the Ikelionwu case (for a small fraction of the prisoner’s estimate of his property value) prior to the prisoner’s filing of the FTCA claim in district court.

Intentional Torts – Theft of Property

In Husband v. United States, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims re-stated the Ali position: “Although the district courts have jurisdiction under the FTCA for civil actions on claims against the United States for loss of property caused by negligent or wrongful acts of Government employees, the detention of goods or other property by law enforcement officers is specifically exempted.”[20] However, Husband noted that section 2680(c) does not fully address the potential claims when federal employees commit certain intentional torts (“harms”).

In Husband, the complainant alleged that federal employees “seized” his property, stating specifically that his loss of property was “due to theft, and not because of negligence.”[21] Section 2680 does include a list of intentional torts that are excepted from the FTCA. However, section 2680 does not contain a blanket exclusion of all intentional torts.[22] Specifically, the Husband court noted that theft is an intentional tort that is not listed as an exemption[23] However, section 2680 also lists certain intentional torts related to “acts or omissions” of “law enforcement officers,” as states that these intentional torts are not exempted (i.e. that may be the basis of an FTCA claim), and theft is not included in that list.[24]

The Husband court then transferred the case to the Southern District of Indiana so the district court could make the determination of whether there is a valid FTCA claim when a plaintiff alleges “that law enforcement officers committed the intentional tort of conversion.”[25] Upon transfer, the district court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment. In considering the motion, the court cited Ali for establishing that section 2680(c) applied to all law enforcement officers. The district court stated that the “allegation fits directly within” section 2680(c)’s exception to the FTCA.[26] The district court did not specifically address the intentional tort of conversion argument, which seems to imply it determined that the act of “stealing” is covered under section 2680(c).

The Administrative Remedy Program – A Limited Option

Although the FTCA provides little hope for prisoners who have their property lost or damaged by BOP staff, the Administrative Remedy Program (“ARP”) provides an avenue for limited relief. The ARP allows any inmate housed in a BOP operated institution “to seek formal relief of an issue relating to any aspect of his/her own confinement.”[27] While 28 C.F.R. § 542.10(c) mentions that there is a statutorily-mandated procedure in place for tort claims (the SF-95), it does not require that an inmate only seek relief through the SF-95.[28] The old ARP included a section listing issues excluded from consideration under the ARP (including tort claims).[29] The removal of these exclusions was for the purpose of “allow[ing] inmates to file any claim under the Administrative Remedy Program, even those [claims] which have statutorily-mandated remedies.”[30] Although prisoners can now file any claim under the ARP, they are not required to file a statutorily-mandated claim under it.[31] While the ARP “ordinarily cannot provide monetary relief[,] [a]n inmate’s claim for monetary relief may, [] present the basis for non-monetary relief.”[32] Since the ARP has rigid time limits for filing, prisoners should be aware that solely pursuing FTCA claims for their lost or damaged property puts them at risk of waiving possible remedies from the ARP program.

***

Section 2680(c) was not drafted to specifically target prisoners. In fact, four Justices of the Supreme Court found that section 2680(c)’s language does not include BOP officers. Unfortunately, since Congress has not amended section 2680(c), prisoners are unlikely to find relief under the FTCA for the loss or damage of their property by BOP staff. Even though the BOP Program Statement, and some Institutional Handbooks, include misleading language on the FTCA as a potential remedy, this alone does not provide a legal basis to seek relief under the FTCA. Further, it is not clear what (if any) intentional torts related to property loss or damage will provide a basis for an FTCA claim. However, since the Administrative Remedy Program can provide some relief, and grievances under the ARP have short windows for filing, prisoners may consider ARP filings in addition to any FTCA related claims.

[1] Prisoners in 2015, E. Ann Carson, (Dec. 2016), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p15.pdf (approximately 18% of the federal prison population is housed in private prison facilities); Work Programs, https://www.bop.gov/inmates/custody_and_care/work_programs.jsp (last visited February 26, 2017).

[2] Work Programs, https://www.bop.gov/inmates/custody_and_care/work_programs.jsp (last visited February 26, 2017).

[3] FCI Fort Dix Commissary List, https://www.bop.gov/locations/institutions/ftd/FTD_CommList.pdf (last visited February 26, 2017).

[4] 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) (2012).

[5] Sovereign immunity is a doctrine stating that governments cannot be sued unless they consent to a lawsuit. Sovereign Immunity, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/sovereign_immunity (last visited February 26, 2017).

[6] Sovereign immunity is only waved if a private person, under the same circumstances, “would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) (2012).

[7] 28 U.S.C. § 2680 (2012).

[8] Kosak v. United States, 465 U.S. 848, 853–54, (1984) (emphasis added).

[9] Kosak v. United States, 465 U.S. 848, 853-54, (1984).

[10] Ali v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 552 U.S. 214, 215-17, (2008).

[11] Daley v. United States, No. CV 08-0261-TUC-CKJ, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33798, at *9 (D. Ariz. Apr. 17, 2009).

[12] Daley v. United States, No. CV 08-0261-TUC-CKJ, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33798, at *9 (D. Ariz. Apr. 17, 2009) (finding that the present claim fell “within those barred under Ali).

[13] Daley v. United States, No. CV 08-0261-TUC-CKJ, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33798, at *9 (D. Ariz. Apr. 17, 2009).

[14] Daley v. United States, No. CV 08-0261-TUC-CKJ, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 33798, at *9 (D. Ariz. Apr. 17, 2009).

[15] Ikelionwu v. Nash, 324 F. App’x 152, 152 (3d Cir. 2009).

[16] Ikelionwu v. Nash, 324 F. App’x 152, 153 (3d Cir. 2009).

[17] Ikelionwu v. Nash, 324 F. App’x 152, 153 (3d Cir. 2009).

[18] Federal Tort Claims Act, Program Statement, 3 (Aug. 1, 2003), https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/1320_006.pdf; 28 C.F.R. § 543.31(a) (2017).

[19] Admission and Orientation Inmate Handbook, FCI Fort Dix, 10 (Apr. 2016), https://www.bop.gov/locations/institutions/ftd/FTD_aohandbook.pdf.

[20] Husband v. United States, 90 Fed. Cl. 29, 40-41 (2009).

[21] Husband v. United States, 90 Fed. Cl. 29, 40-41 (2009).

[22] 28 U.S.C § 2680(h) (2012); see, e.g., Husband v. United States, 90 Fed. Cl. 29, 40-41 (2009) (“[T]respass, conversion, and intentional infliction of emotional distress are not excluded.”).

[23] Husband v. United States, 90 Fed. Cl. 29, 40-41 (2009).

[24] 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h) (2012).

[25] Husband v. United States, 90 Fed. Cl. 29, 40-41 (2009).

[26] Husband v. United States, No. 1:10-cv-374-RLY-TAB (S.D. Ind. Oct. 29, 2010).

[27] Administrative Remedy Program, Program Statement, 1 (Jan. 1, 2014), https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/1330_018.pdf; 28 C.F.R. § 542.10 (2017) (emphasis added).

[28] Administrative Remedy Program, Program Statement, 1 (Jan. 1, 2014), https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/1330_018.pdf; 28 C.F.R. § 542.10(c) (2017).

[29] Administrative Remedy Program: Excluded Matters, 67 Fed. Reg. 50804, 50804 (Aug. 6, 2002).

[30] Administrative Remedy Program: Excluded Matters, 67 Fed. Reg. 50804, 50804 (Aug. 6, 2002).

[31] Administrative Remedy Program: Excluded Matters, 67 Fed. Reg. 50804, 50804 (Aug. 6, 2002).

[32] Administrative Remedy Program: Excluded Matters, 67 Fed. Reg. 50804, 50804 (Aug. 6, 2002).

 

Buck v. Bell: The Supreme Court’s Reckoning with Race and Capital Punishment

Chijindu Obiofuma, Columbia Law School Class of 2018

This past week, the Supreme Court handed down their decision Buck v. Davis[1]. Although, for many in the circles of social justice and capital reform, the decision was uncontroversial, it was by no means inevitable. Buck, a Black man sentenced to death for his role in the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Debra Gardner, and her friend Kenneth Butler, was found by the Court to have had ineffective assistance of counsel. The decision was long overdue.

In May of 1997, Duane Edward Buck was sentenced to death in large part due to testimony from a witness put on by his own defense.[2] Attorney Jerry Guerinot was one of two lawyers defending Buck. Guerinot, who has been described as “the worst capital defense lawyer in the country,” had a total of twenty clients who were eventually sentenced to death. Out of nearly three dozen capital murder clients, Guerinot won not a single case. This case was no exception.

Buck was convicted of capital murder, a conviction that permitted a jury to impose a death sentence if they found unanimously and beyond a reasonable doubt that Buck would be otherwise likely to commit future acts of violence. They did. To aid the jury in this determination, Guerinot—Buck’s own counsel– put on the since discredited psychiatrist Dr. Walter Quijano who presented report that Guerinot insisted on reviewing before the jury, despite objections from the prosecutor.  The report was a horrible descent into racism and unfounded prejudice[3]. Drawing from alleged “statistical evidence” premised on an assessment of seven factors, the report concluded that, if he were ever to be released, Buck would likely re-offend simply because of his race, thus making it likely that he could be a danger to the community in the future.

In a telling exchange between the prosecutor and Quijano, the prosecutor asked, “you have determined that the sex factor, that a male is more violent than a female because that’s just the way it is, and that the race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons; is that correct?”

Quijano’s reply was perfunctory. “Yes.”

In short, Duane Edward Buck deserved to die because he was a Black man[4]. The evidence and accompanying testimony by Quijano went unchallenged and was even encouraged by Guerinot. Nor did he object when the jury asked for a copy of Quijano’s report to assist in their deliberations. After two days of deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous vote in favor of the death penalty.

After a series of post-conviction appeals,[5] in 2014 Buck filed a motion with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the ineptitude of his counsel constituted an extraordinary circumstance that violated his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. The violation, per the motion filed, carried a risk of injustice and a risk for undermining the public’s confidence in the judicial process[6].  His appeal was denied. After agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court discussed the denial in the majority opinion of the case.  The Court found 1) that the Supreme Court had overstepped the bounds of its analysis by deciding the case on the merits and not the proscribed standard of whether reasonable jurors could disagree about the impact of Quijano’s report on Buck’s sentence and 2) that Buck had proven ineffective assistance of counsel under the standard put forth in Strickland which required that he show both that his counsel performed  inadequately and that the performance had influenced the outcome of the case. The Court found Buck had done both.

In the issued opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that “[n]o competent defense attorney would introduce such evidence about his own client.”[7] He went on to say that “when a jury hears expert testimony that expressly makes a defendant’s race directly pertinent on the question of life or death, the impact of that evidence cannot be measured simply by how much air time it received at trial or how many pages it occupied in the record. Some toxins can be deadly in small doses.”[8] The majority opinion was joined by Justice Kennedy, Justice Ginsberg, Justice Sotomayor, Justice Kagan, and Justice Breyer. Justice Thomas authored a dissenting opinion which was joined by Justice Alito.

In this case, the Court determined the unfounded and prejudicial evidence introduced by Buck’s own counsel was harmful enough to reverse and remand the judgment of Buck’s case to the lower courts.  The opinion was a heartening break from the court’s dubious record with race and capital punishment, record largely defined by the Court’s ruling in McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1897) where the court acknowledged and then overlooked studies showing that disparities in capital charges and convictions were heavily racialized,

Although Buck is not quite out of the woods yet, it is a bright spot in the current socio-political landscape to know that—at least on paper—linking predictions of future dangerousness to race is impermissible. It’s an opening in the exploration of race and death-eligibility.

[1] Buck v. Davis, No. 15-8049, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 1429 (Feb. 22, 2017)

[2] Synopsis and Questions Presented, 2016 Sup. Ct. Preview 115, 120 (2016-2017)

[3] Quijano introduced at least additional reports to that effect in at least 6 other capital cases.

[4] Guerinot introduced similar testimony in at least six additional capital cases.

[5] Ian Millhiser, Man Sentenced to Die after Expert Testified That Black People Are Dangerous, 2016 Sup. Ct. Preview 127, 129 (2016-2017) (Buck’s case was compounded by the ineffectiveness of the new counsel in his appeals. The new counsel failed to bring a claim of ineffective assistance of the prior counsel and it appeared that Buck was barred from bringing that claim in subsequent appeals. This changed when in the 2013 case Trevino v. Thaler, the Supreme Court determined that “there should be a ‘narrow exception’ to the previously existing rule that ‘attorney’s ignorance or inadvertence in a post-conviction proceeding does not qualify as an excuse to excuse procedural default.’ In short, Buck’s ineffectiveness of counsel claim was back in play.).

[6] Buck v. Stephens, 623 F. App’x 668 (5th Cir. 2015).

[7] Buck v. Davis, No. 15-8049, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 1429, at *32 (Feb. 22, 2017).

[8] Buck v. Davis, No. 15-8049, 2017 U.S. LEXIS 1429, at *35 (Feb. 22, 2017).

Staffer blog: Fundamental Fairness in Criminal Convictions Through Incorporation of the Sixth Amendment

Patricia Okonta, Columbia Law School Class of 2018

Just over a week ago, a public defender asked a judge in Louisiana’s Orleans Parish to strike down a provision of the state’s constitution that allows for non-unanimous jury verdicts to result in felony convictions.[1] Louisiana is only one of two states that allow non-unanimous jury verdicts to result in criminal convictions. The right to unanimous juries is a federal right, guaranteed through the Bill of Rights, that has not been incorporated by all states.

The Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and is said to house the most fundamental guarantees of citizenship rights.  Despite the importance of these rights, not all of them are incorporated against the states, meaning that citizens cannot always expect the same protections from state governments as they expect from the federal government. With respect to the courts, the Supreme Court has long held that rights from the Bill of Rights may be selectively applied against state courts through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.  The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause creates a legal obligation for states to provide fair procedures to all citizens. This clause was used to make federal guarantees, enumerated through the Bill of Rights, applicable to states.  The only provisions of the Bill of Rights that have not been incorporated are the Sixth Amendment’s right to a unanimous verdict, the Fifth Amendment’s requirement of a grand jury, the Seventh Amendment’s right to a jury trial in civil cases, and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of excessive fines.[2] So, as explained further below, while the Sixth Amendment requires a unanimous verdict for conviction in federal courts, it does not require the same in state courts.

The Sixth Amendment right to jury unanimity has particular significance for criminal proceedings. Currently the requirement of unanimous juries is only a constitutional guarantee in federal courts. In criminal trials, States neither need a jury to be composed of twelve jurors, nor is it necessary that jury votes be unanimous for an individual to be convicted for a crime.[3] 48 states and the District of Columbia adhere to the constitutional standard, requiring unanimous juries.

The last Supreme Court case that grappled directly with unanimous jury decisions was over forty-five years ago in Apodaca vs. Oregon.  In a split decision, the court determined that the Constitution requires unanimous juries in federal cases, but not state criminal cases. This has permitted Louisiana and Oregon to allow ten out of twelve jurors to convict a criminal defendant.[4] Even though this notion prevailed forty-five years ago, in light of more recent Bill of Rights jurisprudence by the  Supreme Court, the ruling in the Apodaca decision should be revisited.

More recent jurisprudence has provided a clear framework of determining  which Bill of Rights should be incorporated against the states. In it 2010 opinion in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 ruling that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments in addition to the federal government.[5] In doing so, the court provided a framework for federal rights that should also be guaranteed by the state government.  When deciding whether or not to incorporate a particular amendment against the states, the Court asks whether the right in dispute is “fundamental,” “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,” and/or “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions. [6] McDonald established an explicit framework for determining which Bill of Rights protections should be enforced against states, under the Fourteenth Amendment, which did not exist in the past.[7]

The concept of jury unanimity is both fundamental to ordered liberty and deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.  This jury requirement has been utilized since the 14th century and is enshrined in common law.[8] Moreover, unanimity protects defendants from the power of the government and ensures that the state is held to a reasonably high standard of proof.[9]  The vast majority of states and the federal government adherence to an unanimity requirement also shows its deeply rooted nature. In light of its conclusion that rights that are “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions” should be applied against both the state and federal governments, McDonald compels a reexamination of jury unanimity.

Not requiring states to have unanimous juries in criminal cases alarming both with respect to the substance of our rights and the procedures that protect those rights. The requirement (or lack thereof) of a unanimous jury verdict for conviction is a component of criminal procedure that may have dramatic substantive impacts on an individual’s life and livelihood. How can states ensure a fair trial if they allow a portion of a jury to be ignored? Some scholars have also noted the insidious racial history of unanimous juries in places like Louisiana. Thomas Aiello, author of the book “Jim Crow’s Last Stand: Nonunanimous Criminal Jury Verdicts in Louisiana” and history professor at Valdosta State University, notes that, when Louisiana’s statute that allows conviction with non-unanimous juries was first passed, it was done to make it easier to force emancipated black people into prison work systems, by stifling the opinion of the anti-slavery minority that may be included on juries. [10]  Unsurprisingly, Orleans Parish in Louisiana has the highest rate of wrongful convictions in the country. [11]  Unanimous juries may be a prime feature in wrongful convictions because they keep voices of doubt on juries from halting convictions and embolden the prosecution to pursue dubious convictions that they know some jurors will doubt.

Unanimous juries are a fundamental part of the Anglo-American justice systems and have long been embedded in common law.[12] Only a few states still rely on non-unanimous juries in criminal trials.  McDonald shows that federal requirements should also be state requirements under the Fourteenth Amendment, and because the Sixth Amendment requires federal courts to have jury unanimity, states should have it too. Unanimous juries represent community values and maintain external confidence in the criminal justice system. Incorporating unanimous juries against state courts also create a major positive step for fundamental fairness. Whether a claim is brought to federal or state court, individuals should be able to navigate the same criminal justice system and be guaranteed the Bill of Rights, the most affirmative assurances the American government offers to its citizens. Full incorporation of the Sixth Amendment against states is comports with constitutional guarantees and can have major positive effects on ensuring a fair administration of justice.

[1] Jim Mustian, Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury system assailed as racially motivated, The Advocate Feb. 8, 2017, http://www.houmatoday.com/news/20170208/louisianas-non-unanimous-jury-system-assailed-as-racially-motivated.

[2] Ethan Thomas, Trial by Most of a Jury: The Court’s Failure to Fully Incorporate the Sixth Amendment Jan. 28, 2016, http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/commonlaw/2016/01/28/trial-by-most-of-a-jury-the-courts-failure-to-fully-incorporate-the-sixth-amendment/#sthash.x7SdFvqE.dpuf

[3] Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404 (1972); Apodaca’s sister case, Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356 (1972), was decided at the same time.

[4] Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U.S. 404, 406 (1972); LA Const. art. I, §17 (requiring concurrence of ten jurors to render a verdict in a criminal case, unless the punishment is capital); OR Const. art. I, §11 (requiring concurrence of ten jurors to render a verdict in a criminal case, except for first degree murder).

[5] McDonald v. City of Chicago, Ill., 561 U.S. 742, 130 S. Ct. 3020, 177 L. Ed. 2d 894 (2010).

[6] McDonald, 561 U.S. 742, 767. The petitioners in McDonald v. City of Chicago argued that the Second Amendment should also be incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause. Supreme Court precedent, however, has consistently held for over one hundred years that none of the Bill of Rights is incorporated through this clause. In McDonald, Justice Thomas joined the majority in holding that the Second Amendment applies to the states, but stated in a separate opinion that the Second Amendment right is a privilege of citizenship that should apply to the states through the Privileges or Immunities Clause.

[7] McDonald,561 U.S. at 765.

[8] Kate Riordan, Ten Angry Men: Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Criminal Trials and Incorporation After McDonald, 101 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1403, 1433 (2011)

[9] Kate Riordan, Ten Angry Men: Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Criminal Trials and Incorporation After McDonald, 101 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 1403, 1433 (2011)

[10] J. Thomas Beasley, Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts: The Sneaky Remnants of Jim Crow April 30, 2016, http://www.yourlawscholar.com/non-unanimous-jury-verdicts-the-sneaky-remnants-of-jim-crow/

[11] J. Thomas Beasley, Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts: The Sneaky Remnants of Jim Crow April 30, 2016, http://www.yourlawscholar.com/non-unanimous-jury-verdicts-the-sneaky-remnants-of-jim-crow/

[12] Ethan Thomas, Trial by Most of a Jury: The Court’s Failure to Fully Incorporate the Sixth Amendment Jan. 28, 2016, http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/commonlaw/2016/01/28/trial-by-most-of-a-jury-the-courts-failure-to-fully-incorporate-the-sixth-amendment/#sthash.x7SdFvqE.dpuf.

Staffer Blog: Gaps and Remedies in Prison Medical Care

torange.biz

Maria Teresa LaGumina, Columbia Law School Class of 2018

The United States corrections system is one of the largest in the world, with nearly 2.1 million Americans in prison today.[1]  The correctional facilities that house these individuals have a responsibility to maintain certain conditions within the facility to protect the rights of those incarcerated.  Prisoners have a variety of rights related with respect to the conditions of their confinement that stem from the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.”[2]

The 8th Amendment’s broad protection against cruel and unusual punishment has been interpreted by courts in many ways.  Courts have interpreted the 8th Amendment to require basic medical care for incarcerated individuals In Estelle v. Gamble, the Supreme Court held that the government has a responsibility to provide medical care for people in prison. [3]  In Fitzke v. Shappel the Sixth Circuit held that incarcerated individuals become “both vulnerable and dependent upon the state to provide certain simple and basic human needs.  Examples are food, shelter, and sanitation.  Facilities may be primitive but they must be adequate.  Medical care is another such need.”[4] In other words, the court held that, because prisoners are dependent on prisons for fulfilling their basic needs, including medical care, the prisons have an obligation to provide medical care.

However, in practice basic medical care is not always adequately given to prisoners.  There have been countless cases of inadequate medical care in the United States corrections system, with stories of delayed or denied care resulting in harm to the incarcerated individuals.[5]  These cases reflect both individual and systematic failure to provide adequate care.  While the need for improved care is evident, the method of seeking improved care isn’t always as clear.

Traditionally, people in prison who have been denied adequate healthcare have sought to protect their rights by filing a 1983 suit based on violation of their Eighth Amendment rights.[6]  A 1983 suit is a suit that allows you to sue federal officials for violations of your constitutional rights.  Some suits have been successful but these cases can move too slowly for those who have an urgent need of medical care. This is especially true in instances in which prison records and records that have not been digitized, slowing the process of obtaining and analyzing medical records.[7]

Advocates have also been petitioning the Attorney General to hold the healthcare providers responsible through the Attorney General’s broad investigative powers.[8]  Most of the providers of healthcare in U.S. prisons in are private healthcare providers.[9] These providers still must provide a constitutionally adequate level of service.[10]  In a recent case, the New York State Attorney General’s Office investigated a private jail health services company responsible for providing medical services to Nassau County Correctional Center. The case ended in settlement after the provider was found to have failed to perform or egregiously underperformed many of its contractual obligations, placing inmates’ health in jeopardy.  The settlement provided that the medical provider would not bid to provide services to Nassau County for three years, pay $350,000 to the Attorney General, and appointed an independent monitor to ensure that the provider met contractual obligations for the remainder of the contract.[11]  Yet, this process is also a slow process for incarcerated individuals with urgent needs, as it usually involves a pattern of failures by the healthcare provider that can span years or even decades.[12]

More recently, prisoners have taken a new means to push for their healthcare rights through protests within the prison. Massive protests have occurred in Alabama, Michigan, South Caroline, Florida, and California.[13] Peaceful protests may be a valuable way of bringing issue to the attention of the public. However, thus far, these protests have not been successful in bringing a noticeable improvement in treatment to those prisoners protesting, especially for those with an urgent need.  This may be due to the low level of public awareness due to lack of media access for incarcerated individuals. Furthermore, some of these protests have turned violent, undermining their validity in the eyes of prison officials, legislatures, and the generally public.[14]  Yet, these protests make clear that there is great frustration about gaps in medical care as well as gaps in methods available to incarcerated individuals to remedy this lack of medical care in a speedy and efficient way.

The size of the United States prison system makes it the primary provider to several million Americans.  Each prison must provide basic medical care to their inmates but in practice this is not always the case.  There is a gap between the needs of the inmates and the care being given.  There are some ways an inmate can petition for better care but these methods as they currently stand are not adequate to address the immediate needs of those incarcerated.  This gap is one that needs to be addressed so that those incarcerated are able, in practice, to get access this vital care.

[1] Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, NCJ250229, Prisoners in 2015, Bureau of Justice Statistics (Dec. 2016), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p15_sum.pdf.

[2] U.S. Const. amend. VIII.

[3] Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).

[4] Fitzke v. Shappel, 468 F. 2d 1072, 1076 (6th Cir. 1972).

[5] Will Tucker, Profits vs. Prisoners: How the largest U.S. prison health care provider puts lives in danger, Southern Poverty Law Center (Oct. 27, 2016), https://www.splcenter.org/20161027/profits-vs-prisoners-how-largest-us-prison-health-care-provider-puts-lives-danger.

[6] See A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual, 10th Ed., Chapter 16, “Using 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331 to Obtain Relief from Violations of Federal Law”.

[7] Dr. James W. Coon, Jr., A Qualitative Analysis of Electronic Medical Records in Correctional HealthCare Settings, Presentation at Correctional Health Conference, 6 (May 2008), available at http://www.correctionalhealthconference.com/sites/correctionalhealthconference.com/files/1%20Coon%20–%20A%20Qualitative%20Analysis%20of%20Electronic%20Medical%20Recor.pdf.

[8] N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 352 (McKinney)

[9] Kimberly Leonard, Privatized Prison Health Care Scrutinized, Washington Post (Jul. 21, 2012), available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/privatized-prison-health-care-scrutinized/2012/07/21/gJQAgsp70W_story.html?utm_term=.8a68d9b51eab.

[10] West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988) (holding that a private healthcare provider acts under the color of law when treating an inmate and is held to the same 8th amendment obligation as the state).

[11] Press Release, New York State Office of the Attorney General, A.G. Schneiderman Announces Settlement of Lawsuit Against Jail Health Services Company in Nassau County, (Oct. 5, 2016), https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-settlement-lawsuit-against-jail-health-services-company.

[12] Typically these suits are not on an individual basis although individuals who are incarcerated can use the Attorney General’s office through whistleblowing to the Attorney’s General’s office by calling the Health Care Bureau’s help line if the office has one such as the one in the New York Attorney General’s OfficeYou can find information on the Health Care Bureau of the New York State Office of the Attorney General at https://ag.ny.gov/bureau/health-care-bureau.

[13] Jaweed Kaleem, This is Slavery’: U.S. Inmates Strike in what Activists call one of the Biggest Prison Protests in Modern History, Los Angeles Times (Oct. 28, 2016), http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-prison-strike-snap-story.html.

[14] Recently, a protest in Delaware turned violent when prisoners took hostages.  Mark Berman, Hostage Standoff in Delaware Prison ends with one Corrections Officer Dead, Washington Post (Feb. 2, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/02/02/inmates-demanding-education-protesting-trump-take-hostages-at-delaware-prison/?utm_term=.65d58bf5db71.

Staffer Blog: The Tide is Turning Against Solitary Confinement

By Henry Hagnäs from Turku, Finland (Solitary Confinement) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Huvie Weinreich, Columbia Law School Class of 2018

Solitary confinement (sometimes referred to as restricted or segregate housing) is under legal fire. While prison reform advocates have long campaigned against the use of solitary confinement in prisons, the last past few years have finally seen true advances towards reduction or even elimination of the practice.

As recently as February 9th, 2017, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Pennsylvania’s practice of indefinitely housing former death-row inmates in Segregated Housing.[1] Plaintiffs, Craig Williams and Shawn T. Walker, were sentenced to death and housed on death row in separate Pennsylvania prisons. After each had his death sentence vacated, they were kept in solitary confinement for several years until they were resentenced to life without parole and placed back into the general prison population. Williams and Walker sued for damages, arguing that their 14th Amendment due process rights had been violated when they were kept in solitary confinement without any review of this placement. The Third Circuit concluded “. . .that there is [a constitutionally protected liberty interest] and that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment therefore limits the State’s ability to subject an inmate to the deprivations of death row once the death sentence initially relied upon to justify such extreme restrictions is no longer operative.”[2]

In its opinion, the court cited two other recent legal decisions: Incumaa v. Sterling, a 2015 case in which the Fourth Circuit held that the conditions of solitary confinement are sufficiently worse than general prison conditions such that solitary confinement created a protected liberty interest in remaining with the general prison population,[3] and Johnson v. Wetzel, a 2016 case in which the Middle District of Pennsylvania held that the potential damage from an extended period of solitary confinement was so severe and imminent that the plaintiff was entitled to a preliminary injunction moving him to the general population.[4] As the Third Circuit wrote, these cases serve to highlight “the judiciary’s increasing recognition of the scientific evidence of the harms of solitary confinement.”[5]

These cases come in the wake of heavy criticism from other sources of Pennsylvania’s solitary confinement practices. In 2013, the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Cresson was the subject of a Department of Justice investigation.[6] Cresson was using solitary confinement to manage its prisoners with mental illness rather than providing appropriate care or supervision. Inmates who were determined to be mentally ill would be automatically placed in solitary confinement, in large part because the prison had inadequate mental health facilities to actually treat them. The DOJ found these practices to be violations of the Eight Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. [7]

Additionally, advocates for reform have focused primarily on two issues: mental illness and solitary for juveniles. Many states, including Massachusetts, and Colorado, have passed laws to restrict the length of time mentally ill prisoners spend in solitary and to institute screenings for mental health deterioration while in solitary.[8] At the federal level, much attention has been given to removing solitary confinement for juveniles. In 2015, the MERCY (Maintaining dignity and Eliminating unnecessary Restrictive Confinement of Youths) Act of 2015, a bipartisan juvenile justice reform bill, was introduced in the Senate, but never passed.[9] In January 2016, President Obama banned the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in the federal prison system, and had the DOJ release a report on the use of segregated housing which included general policy recommendations to restrict the use of solitary confinement for all juvenile prisoners.[10] Just this month, the House and Senate have reintroduced the MERCY Act, still a bipartisan initiative, to reinforce the executive order and continue to reform us of solitary confinement.[11]

Of course, not every jurisdiction is currently engaged in reform. For example, Governor Walker of Wisconsin recently introduced a budget for the Wisconsin youth prison that does not give the state enough money to comply with federal law, let alone engage in any needed reforms,[12] particularly in light of the fact that the ACLU is currently suing Wisconsin over youth prison conditions.[13] Additionally, many are concerned that federal prison reform efforts will be halted under President Trump’s new administration.[14]

However, even if executive initiatives for prison reform are not continued or even reversed, the increasing momentum against solitary confinement within our judiciary should give us hope. It appears that courts are beginning to respond to a growth in public sentiment against the widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, and are beginning to act to reduce the practice.

 

 

[1] Williams v Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2327 (3d Cir. Pa., Feb. 9, 2017).

[2] Williams v Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2327, at *1-2.

[3] Williams v Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2327, at *42-43 (citing Incumaa v. Stirling, 791 F.3d 517, 522 (4th Cir. 2015)).

[4] Williams v Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2327, at *43-44 (citing Johnson v. Wetzel, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127780 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 20, 2016)).

[5] Williams v Sec’y Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 2327, at *43.

[6] Civil Rights division, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, News Release 13-631, Justice Department Finds Pennsylvania State Prison’s Use of Solitary Confinement Violates Rights of Prisoners Under the Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act (May 31, 2013), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-finds-pennsylvania-state-prison-s-use-solitary-confinement-violates-rights (hereinafter “D.O.J. News Release”). The report noted that though ” the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections now intends to close Cresson, many of the prison’s problematic policies and practices relating to the se of solitary confinement appear indicative of what is occurring statewide.”

[7]D.O.J. News Release.

[8] See COLO. REV. STAT. § 17-1-113.8 (2015); MASS. GEN. LAWS § 127-39A (2015); see also The Liman Program, Yale Law Sch. & Ass’n Of State Corr. Adm’rs, Time-in-Cell: The ASCA-Liman 2014 National Survey of Administrative Segregation In Prison, Sec. I (Aug. 2015), available at https://www.law.yale.edu/system/files/documents/pdf/asca-liman_administrative_segregation_report_sep_2_2015.pdf [https://perma.cc/A6RV-E2JP] (for a survey of solitary confinement reform across jurisdictions).

[9] S. 1965, 114th Cong. (2015).

[10] Michael D. Shear, Obama Bans Solitary Confinement of Juveniles in Federal Prisons,  N.Y. Times, Jan. 26, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/26/us/politics/obama-bans-solitary-confinement-of-juveniles-in-federal-prisons.html?_r=0; Press Release, Office of the Press Sec’y, Fact Sheet: Department of Justice Review of Solitary Confinement (Jan. 25, 2016), https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/25/fact-sheet-department-justice-review-solitary-confinement [https://perma.cc/G27J-XB9A].

[11] News Release from the office of Cong. Mia Love, Mercy Act Would Prohibit Solitary Confinement of Juveniles Tried in Federal System  (Feb. 7, 2017), https://love.house.gov/in-the-news/mercy-act-would-prohibit-solitary-confinement-of-juveniles-tried-in-federal-system/.

[12] Todd Richmond, Critics Pan Walker’s Budget on Youth Prison, Wis. Gazette, Feb. 13, 2017,  http://wisconsingazette.com/2017/02/13/critics-pan-walkers-budget-on-youth-prison/.

[13] Vidushi Saxena, Lawsuit shines light on impact of solitary confinement on youth mental health, Badger Herald, Feb. 7, 2017, https://badgerherald.com/news/2017/02/07/lawsuit-shines-light-on-impact-of-solitary-confinement-on-youth-mental-health/.

[14] Jon Schuppe, With Trump in White House, Criminal Justice Reformers Will Look Elsewhere, NBC News, Nov. 10, 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/2016-election-day/trump-white-house-criminal-justice-reformers-will-look-elsewhere-n681536.

Staffer Blog: An Inexplicably Narrow Definition of “Custody” in Immigration Removal

Deborah Capiro, Columbia Law School class of 2018

Photo credit: Jerry Lara, Staff, San Antonio Express-News.

The language of 8 C.F.R. 1236.1(d)(1) gives Immigration Judges authority to make custody re-determinations when a non-citizen is about to be released from immigration detention and beyond:

After an initial custody determination by the district director, including the setting of a bond, the respondent may, at any time before an order under 8 CFR 240 becomes final, request amelioration of the conditions under which he or she may be released.” “If the alien has been released from custody, an application for amelioration of the terms of release must be filed within 7 days of release.”

In addition to the federal regulations, the term “custody” appears in section 236 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) as it pertains to the “Apprehension and Detention of Aliens.” Neither the INA nor the federal regulations define the term, and Congress has given the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), which enforces the immigration laws, no guidance on how to interpret it. However, DHS has construed custody to require physical confinement at a detention facility.[i]

The Supreme Court has affirmed that, besides physical imprisonment, there are other restraints on an individual’s liberty—not shared by the public at large—that constitute “custody.” An encompassing meaning of “custody” was first adopted in 1963 when the U.S. Supreme Court held that a petitioner’s release on parole satisfied the “in custody” requirement of habeas corpus jurisdiction.[ii] Fundamental to the Court’s reasoning was that, although the petitioner was released from physical confinement per se, the conditions of his parole continued to “significantly confine and restrain his freedom.”[iii] In Hensley v. Municipal Court, the Supreme Court further broadened the definition of “custody” when it held that a petitioner released on his own recognizance was “in custody” prior to trial but had to appear in criminal court when ordered because he was “subject to restraints not shared by the public generally.”[iv]

Federal Court of Appeals jurisprudence has also recognized that a variety of non-confinement restraints on liberty satisfy the custodial requirement. Most recently, in Nowakowski v. New York, the Second Circuit held petitioner was “in custody” for the purposes of habeas review when he was subject to conditional discharge requiring one day of community service.[v]

In addition to DHS’ narrow construction of custody, the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), the Executive agency adjudicating and interpreting U.S. immigration laws, has also chosen to apply a more limited definition in the immigration context that frustrates the ability of many immigrants to challenge restrictive conditions placed on their liberty. The most recent BIA precedent in Matter of Aguilar-Aquino relies on a distinction between “detention” or “actual physical custody” and other forms of restrictions on liberty, ignoring the Supreme Court’s broad definition of “custody,” as articulated in the context of habeas corpus. In this case, the DHS released the respondent from detention as long as he complied with wearing an electronic monitoring device on his ankle and remained in his residence between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.[vi] Two months after his release, the respondent requested a redetermination of his custody status before the Immigration Judge, asking that the electronic monitoring device be removed and that he be released on his own recognizance. The Immigration Judge concluded the ankle monitor, an alternative program to detention, was a form of “custody” and the regulations (8 CFR § 1236.1(d)(1)) gave her jurisdiction to re-determine the conditions on the respondent’s custody status. On appeal, the BIA held that the Immigration Judge lacked jurisdiction to consider the respondent’s request for amelioration of the terms of his release given that he had been “released from custody,” thus defining “custody” to only include its most extreme form: actual physical detention.[vii]

In Matter of Garcia-Garcia, the BIA clarified the holding in Aguilar-Aquino by determining “custody,” as the term is used in 8 CFR § 1236.1(d)(1), requires actual physical restraint or confinement within a given space. The agency found the Immigration Judge lacked jurisdiction under 8 CFR § 1236.1(d)(1) to consider the respondent’s request for amelioration of the terms of his release where the respondent had been “released from custody” more than seven days prior to his request. The BIA reasoned that Congress used the terms “custody” and “detain” interchangeably and did not intend for them to be afforded different meanings. Furthermore, The BIA found the Immigration Judge’s reliance on federal habeas corpus jurisprudence to in determining the meaning of custody to be erroneous.[viii]

As the number of individuals detained not subject to mandatory detention—particularly mothers and children—has exponentially grown, DHS’ use of ankle monitors in setting release conditions has become the norm.[ix] Ankle monitors, in particular, are highly restrictive: they restrict an individual’s freedom of movement and require confinement in a specific space such as a private dwelling for approximately twelve hours per day. The BIA has not provided a satisfactory explanation as to why the definition of “custody” in the INA context cannot be afforded the broad interpretation employed in the habeas corpus jurisprudence—a definition of custody that would encompass restrictive release conditions that are not shared by the public at large.

[i] See INA § 236(c); Philip L. Torrey, Rethinking Immigration’s Mandatory Detention Regime: Politics, Profit, and the Meaning of “Custody,” 48 U. Michigan Journal of Law Reform. Page, Issue 4 (2015).

[ii] Jones v. Cunningham, 371 U.S. 236, 243 (1963).

[iii] Id.

[iv] Hensley v. Municipal Court, 411 U.S. 345, 351 (1973).

[v] Nowakowski v. New York, No.14-1964 (2nd Cir. 2016).

[vi] Matter of Aguilar-Aquino, 24 I&N Dec 747 (BIA 2009).

[vii] Matter of Aguilar-Aquino, 24 I&N Dec 747, 747 (BIA 2009).

[viii] The Immigration Judge had based its decision on cases like Jones v. Cunningham where the Supreme Court broadly interpreted “custody” to mean any restrain on personal liberty “not shared by the public generally.”

[ix] In July, 2015, ICE used approximately 9,300 ankle monitors—an increase of over forty percent since January 2015. Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Immigrants Object to Growing Use of Ankle Monitors After Detention, L.A. TIMES (Aug. 2, 2015), http://www.latimes.com/nation/ immigration/la-na-immigrant-ankle-monitors-20150802-story.html.

Our Staffers are Blogging!

The JLM is staffed by a wonderful group of law students with unique expertise in issues affecting our readers. Over the next few months, our staffers will be blogging about the issues that they care about, from immigration law to healthcare in prison. Check back for new blog posts!

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