A federal judge has determined that Utah State Prison inmates do not have a constitutional right to use jailhouse lawyers if they have some other form of access to courts.
U.S. District Judge David Sam said last week that the prison complies with the law by providing private contract attorneys to file legal complaints for prisoners.Inmate Raymond Glen Dodge had filed suit against the prison in 1987 seeking a ruling that would have allowed him to provide legal services to fellow prisoners.
In October 1986, guards confiscated Dodge's footlocker when furniture in his cell was not arranged in compliance with housing rules.
The footlocker contained legal documents belonging to other inmates, in violation of a policy barring inmates from possessing other prisoners' property, according to court documents.
The guards wrote a report against Dodge, but no disciplinary action was taken and the confiscated documents were returned to their owners.
Dodge then filed a federal suit, contending he had a constitutional right to help prisoners in legal matters. He said his assistance was necessary because the prison had no other adequate alternative for prisoners to gain access to the courts.
But state attorneys argued that while the prison "tolerates" inmates helping each other in legal matters, the use of private contract attorneys satisfies inmates' constitutional right of access.
They also argued that the prison's policy of not allowing inmates to retain other prisoners' property "is necessary for the preservation of safety" at the prison.
Sam agreed with the arguments and also found that Dodge did not provide evidence that inmates he wanted to help were incapable "of making claims for themselves" or that any of the inmates were harmed when guards seized their legal documents from Dodge's prison cell.
In 1988, Dodge pleaded guilty to drug charges stemming from a 1986 investigation of crimes centered around the prison. Dodge admitted during trial to two of six heroin and marijuana-dealing charges, just before a federal prosecutor was to play an audio tape of Dodge in prison talking to an informant about drug deals.
Officials said FBI agents secretly followed Dodge on two trips to Arizona while on weekend furlough from an Ogden halfway house to arrange the purchase of "black tar" heroin.