Most people want to avoid prison, and rightly so. Despite the abundance of reading time, it’s crowded, the food’s terrible, and it’s fairly stressful to live knowing that you could be shanked at any second for looking at someone the wrong way in the prison yard.
Not to mention the complete loss of personal freedom.
There are three cases over the last two years that make observers extra-nervous about prison conditions in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ states: Duvall v. Dallas County, Waganfeald v. Gusman, and Depriest v. Epps. Let’s go through these case-by-case, and discuss why you should keep fighting to keep your clients out of prison.
- Duvall v. Dallas County. Mark Duvall, a pre-trial detainee in Texas, contracted Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a staph infection resistant to usual penicillin type antibiotics. Duvall's physical suffering was great, and he eventually lost the use of one of his eyes. In his civil rights deprivation complaint, Duvall claimed that the County had deprived him of his right to due process by subjecting him to the bacteria, which he said was an unconstitutional condition of confinement. Though a jury awarded Duvall $355,000, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict, that doesn't change the fact that Duvall lost his sight in one eye.
- Waganfeald v. Gusman. Robie Waganfeald and Paul Kunkel Jr., two Ohio tourists, were arrested for public drunkenness in New Orleans two days before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. They remained in jail for a month after the storm -- well beyond the 48-hour holding period limit. They sued Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman for false imprisonment, and claimed they were locked up without food, water or working toilets as their cells filled with more than two feet of flood water when the storm his New Orleans. A jury awarded them over $650,000 in damages, In March, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals tossed that award, finding that the storm emergency trumped the 48-hour rule.
- Depriest v. Epps. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Mississippi over barbaric conditions in a privately-run prison. The interest groups claimed that guards at the facility smuggled drugs to inmates, had sex with some of them, and denied others medical treatment and basic educational services. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves approved a settlement in the case in March, which will transfer juvenile offenders out of the facility.
The justice system can't work without a zealous defense process, and these cases remind us why defense attorneys fight hard to keep innocent clients out of jail. Prison shouldn't be a picnic for criminals, but no one deserves to be subject to the cruel and unusual conditions in these lawsuits.
- Duvall v. Dallas County (FindLaw's Fifth Circuit Blog)
- Waganfeald v. Gusman (Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- US Judge Approves Deal in Mississippi Youth Prison Suit (AP)
- Final Call Newspaper Ban Impedes Free Exercise of Religion (FindLaw's Fifth Circuit Blog)