Taylor v. Sterrett, No. 74-3964

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore WISDOM, GEWIN and AINSWORTH; WISDOM
Citation532 F.2d 462
Decision Date01 June 1976
Docket NumberNo. 74-3964
PartiesJoseph TAYLOR et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. W. L. STERRETT et al., Defendants-Appellants.

Page 462

532 F.2d 462
Joseph TAYLOR et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
W. L. STERRETT et al., Defendants-Appellants.
No. 74-3964.
United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.
June 1, 1976.

Page 463

Earl Luna, Thomas V. Murto, III, John B. Tolle, Dallas, Tex., for defendants-appellants.

Robert L. Byrd, Tarrant County Legal Aid, Ft. Worth, Tex., John F. Jordan, Dallas, Tex., Stanley A. Bass, New York City, Sylvia M. Demarest, Dallas, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Page 464

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before WISDOM, GEWIN and AINSWORTH, Circuit Judges.

WISDOM, Circuit Judge:

In this case we grapple with the difficult issue of prisoners' rights within the context, primarily, of censorship of inmate mail. A secondary issue relates to the prison practice of allowing "cop-out" men (investigators) access to prisoners.

This appeal is from an unreported district court order, entered November 1, 1974, placing restrictions upon the opening of inmate mail by officials at a county jail and upon visits to its inmates by the district attorney's representatives. The appellants, various officials of Dallas County, Texas, challenge the constitutional basis for these restrictions.

The prisoner-appellees initiated a class action in October 1971, contesting the constitutionality of certain conditions and practices at the Dallas County Jail, Dallas, Texas. After a trial on the merits, the district court ordered physical modifications to the jail and changes in several jail practices. See Taylor v. Sterrett, N.D.Tex.1972, 344 F.Supp. 411. The changes in jail practices included those directed in the following paragraphs of the district court's order:

4. The permanent injunction heretofore issued relating to censorship of mail is affirmed and carried forward in this judgment. The Sheriff is directed not to open or censor mail transmitted between inmates of the jail and the following persons: courts, prosecuting attorneys, probation and parole officers, governmental agencies, lawyers and the press.

8. The Sheriff is directed not to allow persons to see prisoners except with the consent or request of the inmates. This has particular reference to 'copout' men who have had free access to the jail.

Id. at 422-23.

On appeal, we affirmed certain portions of the order, vacated others, and remanded the case for further proceedings. See Taylor v. Sterrett, 5 Cir. 1974, 499 F.2d 367. Paragraph 4 of the order was vacated and remanded for further consideration in light of Wolff v. McDonnell, 1974, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935, and Procunier v. Martinez, 1 1974, 416 U.S. 396, 94 S.Ct. 1800, 40 L.Ed.2d 224. We also vacated paragraph 8. We suggested that on remand "an effort be made specifically to limit (the paragraph 8) requirement to the evil it is intended to extirpate, if that evil does, in fact, rise to constitutional dimensions". 499 F.2d at 369.

The district court, after consultation with the parties but without further evidentiary hearings, entered an amended order, revising paragraphs 4 and 8 of the original order to read as follows:

4. The sheriff is directed not to open mail transmitted between inmates of the jail and the following persons: courts, prosecuting attorney, probation and parole officers, governmental agencies, lawyers and the press. If, however, there is a reasonable possibility that contraband is included in the mail, it may be opened, but only in the presence of the inmates.

8. The sheriff is directed not to allow persons to see prisoners except with the consent or request of the inmate. This has particular reference to 'cop out' men who have heretofore visited inmates unrepresented by counsel for the purpose of plea bargaining. This provision is not intended to eliminate visits from official investigators engaged in the efforts to solve crime or to perform other legitimate duties, nor is it intended to eliminate, only to limit plea bargaining. The attention of the District Attorney is particularly called to this provision.

Page 465

I.

MAIL RESTRICTIONS

A. TEACHINGS OF PROCUNIER v. MARTINEZ AND WOLFF v. MCDONNELL

The appellants contend that there is no constitutional justification for the revised paragraph 4 covering restrictions on the opening of inmate correspondence. They point out that the sole substantive change from the original paragraph 4 appears in its final sentence allowing a prisoner's mail to be opened "only" in his presence and then only if there is "a reasonable possibility that contraband is included in the mail". The appellants contend that this modification is irreconcilable with guidance provided by the Supreme Court in Wolff and Martinez. First, they argue that the condition requiring "a reasonable possibility" that contraband is included in inmate mail before it is opened runs against the declaration in Wolff that "a flexible test, besides being unworkable" in the context of monitoring inmate's mail by jail officials, "serves no arguable purpose in protecting any constitutional rights". 418 U.S. 577, 94 S.Ct. 2985, 41 L.Ed.2d 963. Second, the appellants assert that language in Wolff indicates that requiring the presence of the prisoner when his mail is opened exceeds any constitutionally compelled protection of inmate or correspondent rights. Their contention is that since the sole rationale for requiring the prisoner's presence is to prevent jail officials from reading prisoner mail, the implicit authorization to inspect mail in Wolff forecloses the possibility that this requirement is constitutionally mandated.

The appellants' objection to the constraints on the opening of correspondence between a prisoner and each of the enumerated classes 2 requires explication of the constitutional bases for the restrictions placed on the opening, inspecting, and reading of an inmate's correspondence with attorneys, various public officials, and the press. We begin by examining the guidance provided in Martinez and Wolff.

In Martinez the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of prisoner mail censorship regulations of the California Department of Corrections. The district court had invalidated those regulations partly on the ground that they were violative of the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the prison inmates. See Martinez v. Procunier, 1973, N.D.Cal., 354 F.Supp. 1092. The Supreme Court, however, chose a different basis for invalidating them. It found that the censorship regulations necessarily impinged upon the First Amendment interests of the prisoners' correspondents. The Court, emphasizing that it was adjudicating the First Amendment rights of those who correspond with prisoners rather than of the prisoners themselves, proceeded to analyze the competing state and individual interests.

Although recognizing the traditional restraint of federal courts in dealing with problems of prison administration, the Court attempted "to formulate a standard of review for prisoner mail censorship" that responds both to the protection of First Amendment interests implicated by a censorship of prisoner correspondence and to the governmental interests of prison administration. 416 U.S. at 407, 94 S.Ct. at 1808, 40 L.Ed.2d at 237. It noted that prison security, rehabilitation, and punishment are substantial governmental interests. Mr. Justice Powell, for the Court, held that censorship of prisoner mail is justified if: (1) the regulation or practice in question furthers an important or substantial governmental interest unrelated to the suppression of expression, and (2) the limitation of First Amendment freedoms is no greater than necessary or essential to the protection of the particular governmental interest involved. Applying this standard,

Page 466

the Court found that the state prison officials had failed to show that "these broad restrictions on prisoner mail are in any way necessary to the furtherance of a government interest unrelated to the suppression of expression." Id. Those restrictions allowed censorship of statements in prisoner mail that "unduly complain" or "magnify grievances", express "inflammatory political, racial, religious or other views", or contain "defamatory" or "otherwise inappropriate" matters.

In addition, the Court affirmed the district court's holding that the Fourteenth Amendment mandated the provision of minimum procedural safeguards whenever a decision to censor or withhold delivery of a letter is taken. It approved a procedure requiring that a prisoner receive notification of the rejection of incoming or outgoing letters, that the author of prisoner correspondence have a reasonable chance to protest this action, and that persons other than the prison official making the initial decision regarding mail hear the complaint.

It is necessary at this point to discuss the appellants' understanding of the import of Procunier v. Martinez for this case. They assert that the Supreme Court's analysis of the First Amendment rights of prisoners' correspondents forecloses the possibility of a constitutional justification for prohibiting the reading of inmate mail from the correspondents in question here based on the First Amendment rights of the inmates themselves. Their reasoning is indeed partially correct. The majority opinion in Martinez did imply that prisoner mail might be read for the purpose of justifiable censorship. But that authorization was given in circumstances sharply different from those in this case. We are adjudicating the constitutional justification for prison mail procedures involving correspondence from a small number of special, largely governmental sources, rather than those related to correspondence with the general public. 3 The nature of the former correspondents brings into play prisoner interests in access to the courts and effective assistance of counsel. When First Amendment interests are intermeshed with other fundamental prisoner interests, courts are...

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131 practice notes
  • Dawson v. Kendrick, Civ. A. No. 78-1076.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • August 10, 1981
    ...the prison officials admittedly had been engaging in a practice of reading incoming mail from attorneys. See, e. g., Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462 5th Cir. supra, and Smith v. Robbins, 454 F.2d 696 1st Cir. supra. In such a context it is not unreasonable for inmates to fear that prison o......
  • Davis v. Balson, No. C 73-205.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio
    • September 28, 1978
    ...the reasons which otherwise require differences in treatment between categories of inmates are not present. See Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462, 470 n. 11 (5th Cir. 1976). Restrictions which are shown to be necessary to further the governmental interest in maintaining custody, maintaining ......
  • In re Benny, Bankruptcy No. 3-82-00973-LK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • April 14, 1983
    ...at 757-59 (incoming mail from attorney could be opened only to inspect for contraband and in presence of inmate); Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462 (5th Cir.1976) (same); 5 A.L.R.3d 1360. III. SCOPE OF RELIEF As the foregoing demonstrates, the present practice of mail redirection encroaches ......
  • Lavado v. Keohane, No. 91-6442
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • April 22, 1993
    ...We did not, however, specifically join these courts in so holding. Among the "several courts" we noted were: Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462, 477 (5th Cir.1976); Bach v. Illinois, 504 F.2d 1100, 1102 (7th Cir.) (per curiam), cert. denied, 418 U.S. 910, 94 S.Ct. 3202, 41 L.Ed.2d 1156 (1974)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
131 cases
  • Dawson v. Kendrick, Civ. A. No. 78-1076.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • August 10, 1981
    ...the prison officials admittedly had been engaging in a practice of reading incoming mail from attorneys. See, e. g., Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462 5th Cir. supra, and Smith v. Robbins, 454 F.2d 696 1st Cir. supra. In such a context it is not unreasonable for inmates to fear that prison o......
  • Davis v. Balson, No. C 73-205.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio
    • September 28, 1978
    ...the reasons which otherwise require differences in treatment between categories of inmates are not present. See Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462, 470 n. 11 (5th Cir. 1976). Restrictions which are shown to be necessary to further the governmental interest in maintaining custody, maintaining ......
  • In re Benny, Bankruptcy No. 3-82-00973-LK.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • April 14, 1983
    ...at 757-59 (incoming mail from attorney could be opened only to inspect for contraband and in presence of inmate); Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462 (5th Cir.1976) (same); 5 A.L.R.3d 1360. III. SCOPE OF RELIEF As the foregoing demonstrates, the present practice of mail redirection encroaches ......
  • Lavado v. Keohane, No. 91-6442
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • April 22, 1993
    ...We did not, however, specifically join these courts in so holding. Among the "several courts" we noted were: Taylor v. Sterrett, 532 F.2d 462, 477 (5th Cir.1976); Bach v. Illinois, 504 F.2d 1100, 1102 (7th Cir.) (per curiam), cert. denied, 418 U.S. 910, 94 S.Ct. 3202, 41 L.Ed.2d 1156 (1974)......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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