Primary Constitutional Amendments That Comprise Prisoner Complaints; 1st, 4th, 8th, and 14th – Cases

Assignment Instructions

  • Write an essay of 750-1,000 words that details four court cases, one case for each of the four primary Constitutional Amendments that comprise most prisoner complaints; 1st, 4th, 8th, and 14th.

Sample Solution – Legal Considerations in Confinement

First Amendment

The first constitution amendment assures freedoms regarding assembly, expression, religion, and the right to petition. It also protects citizen’s freedom of expression. This right is not only granted to free citizens but also to those in prison. There have been a number of cases involving prisoners’ complaints with regard to the violation of their first amendment right. Brown v Peyton is one of these cases. The case involved Brown a Black Muslim prisoner who claimed that his religious rights were being violated by Peyton, a prison officer, and it was against his rights as per the first amendment.

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The fourth circuit acknowledged the courts necessity to review the prison administrators’ decisions to insure the inmates’ constitutional rights are protected (Fox, 1972). According to the court, prison officer are not judges and thus, they do not have the ability to interpret the constitutions. However, the court acknowledged that prison officials contain the duty to safeguard the inmates, prison employees, and the public at large. Thus prison authorities might legitimately limit freedoms in an effort to further prisoner rehabilitation interest. Restrictions can be made also as a punishment to prisoners or to deter crime, especially by limiting rights to communicate to the outside world. Nevertheless, according to the court in Brown v. Peyton case, this does not eliminate the state necessity to prove that prisoners’ right exists in a certain set of circumstances (Haney, 1973).

Fourth Amendment

The fourth Amendment protects the citizens from irrational property searches and confiscations by the government. There have been a number of situations in prison where prisoners’ fourth Amendment rights have been violated especially in women prisons where women prisoners have been subjected to bod search by male wardens. Jordan v. Gardner is a case that involved for women prisoner complainants against four defendants who were male prison officials. The female prisoners in this case complained of being clothed body searches by male officers. The male officers were said to search the female prisoners thoroughly by running their hands over their clothed body from the neck downwards up to the legs. The search was as per the correction center policies and is regarded as cross-gender search.  The search was found by the court to be in appropriate and against the prisoners’ rights. According to the court the act was in the violation of the inmates Forth Amendment rights (Weiser, n.d.).

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Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment protects the US citizens against excessive bail, excessive fines, and infliction to unusual or cruel punishment. There have been various cases where prisoners complain for the violation of their Eighth Amendment rights. Hutto v. Finney is one of such cases. In this case Arkansas inmates sued the prison fraternity for the jail conditions which subjected them to unusual situation that according to them violated their Eighth Amendments (Hall, 1993). The inmate described the conditions as lack of beds, severe overcrowding, a systematic employment of punitive isolation that lasted for unknown time period, insufficient number of prison guards, extremely vandalized cells, and a diet of below 1000 calories a day. Punitive isolation entailed the crowing of eleven or ten prisoners in 8’ x 10’ windowless cell which only contained a water source and toilet which could not be flushed from inside. In addition, there was spread of diseases which were propagated by random removal and return of mattress every day.  The district court regarded the conditions in prison as an evil and dark world which was completely strange to free world. Thus the court considered the conditions to be in violation of the prisoners Eighth Amendment (Hall, 1993).

Fourteenth Amendment

The Fourteenth Amendment protects the citizens of the US from formation of any law that abridge their immunities and privileges. The amendment also protects the US citizens from deprivation of their personal property, liberty or life with no due process of law, or equal laws protection in the country’s jurisdiction. One of the cases that addressed prisoners’ right based on 14th amendment isVitek v. Jones case (Knochel, 1980). In this case Vitek, a prisoner complained of being transferred from the prison to a mental hospital without any prior notice or communication.  According to the complainant the transfer was which did not give him opportunity to be listened to nor notice of transfer undermined his liberty without due process of law an aspect that was against his rights based on 14th amendment.

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According to the court, a convicted prisoner has the right to procedural safeguards that include appointed counsel an adversary hearing, and notice, before he is transferred involuntarily to a state mental hospital. According to the court, prisoners are offered these protections by the 14th amendment and thus, the state is just required to offer independent and qualified assistance. Labeling prisoners as mentally ill and relocating them to a mental hospital was found to be traumatizing to the court. The complaint liberty interest was found to be violated based on 14th amendment and thus the court ruled in complainant favor (Knochel, 1980).

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