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Seizing a Prisoner's Guitar Isn't a Due Process Violation

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on January 15, 2016 11:01 AM

An inmate who was possibly a little too flower-power for his own good had his guitar seizure case dismissed by the Tenth Circuit's Court of Appeals.

In a desperate bid to get his instrument back, the plaintiff started blustering his way through the court system, trying to throw every possible legal theory he had at his case. He lost.

Guitar Seizure = Due Process Violation?

The plaintiff, a pro se inmate, brought a case against the New Mexico Corrections Department after his jailers took away his guitar. He argued that the confiscation of his guitar was an unlawful violation of his due process rights. He also argued that the Department violated his First Amendment rights to free speech by not allowing him proper access to a grievance system.

The district court dismissed his case as ludicrous. It pointed out that the intentional confiscation of property by a state employee does not constitute a due process violation so long as there exists a meaningful post-deprivation remedy. The circuit nodded assent and found no error.

Free Speech for Inmates

The circuit also opined that when an inmate's petition involves a constitutional right, his access to the courts determines whether or not his rights are violated. The district court too turned to case law to support this. Specifically, the court turned to Flick v. Alba.

Stengel's Worst Enemy: His Lack of Representation

While the circuit was business discussing why Stengel's complaint lacked any ability to hold water, Stengel asserted further that he would have inserted Equal Protection and Eighth Amendment arguments in his complaint. How he intended to make those theories stick is anyone's guess.

This case highlights the obvious: the importance of a skilled attorney. Inmates who go down the path of self-representation can do more harm for their case than good.

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