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Habeas Granted: Inmate Can Read Sexy Violent Vampire Thriller

By William Peacock, Esq. on June 06, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Every full moon, Iris kills werewolves. It's what she's good at; it's what she's trained for. She's never imagined doing anything else ... until she falls in love with one. And being a professional werewolf hunter and dating a werewolf poses a serious conflict of interest. To add to her problems, a group of witches decides she is the chosen one -- destined to save humanity from the wolves at the door -- while her boss, Blake, who just happens to be her ex-husband, is hell-bent on sabotaging her new relationship.

All Iris wants is to snuggle up with her alpha wolf and be left alone. He might turn into a monster once a month, but in a lot of ways, she does, too.

Giggity, giggity. Now that sounds like an instant literary classic. And you, dear reader, have Andres Martinez to thank for the heads-up. In early 2011, he ordered a copy of The Silver Crown from his Pelican Bay cell, but was denied access to the novel after it was deemed contraband.

He appealed through three levels of prison administrative bureaucracy. At each level, the decision-maker cited the prison's operational procedures, which barred depictions of sexual activity.

In late 2011, he filed a habeas corpus petition in the superior court. The petition was denied. The court deferred to the prison's findings that the graphic sexual depictions in the book met the standard of obscenity in a prison context.

The lower court's finding relied heavily on two state court decisions, Johnson and Snow, and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Turner v. Safley. All three share the common proposition that even if something is appropriate outside of prison, it might not be appropriate in prison. (For example, Johnson dealt with an article from Men's Health magazine.)

Much like Iris the Werewolf-Hunter, Martinez continued to fight for his passions. He took the case to the California Appellate Court, where counsel was appointed for Martinez, the judges read 265 pages of sex and slaughter, and taxpayers received a lengthy book report (see pages 17-18 for a plot summary with spoilers).

Instead of taking the Turner route, the appellate court chose to see if the book fit within the broad right to read guaranteed to all prisoners, limited only by obscenity and whether the violence depicted was likely to incite murder, assault, arson, or other violent acts in prison.

By the time the Prisoners' Bill of Rights was passed, the Miller test had long since become the standard. The test applied by the prison, throughout the administrative appeals, was not the Miller test. They applied a stricter standard from the prison manual, which fails to account for the third element of the Miller test: literary value.

Curb your laughter, as "literary value" in the Miller sense does not equate to good writing. It's a vague yet lenient term, with a very low bar (the Court cites the Twilight movies, after all). After reviewing the expert opinion of a San Francisco State University professor, the court held that the book had a sufficient plot and other literary elements to qualify, even if it really was a middling book packed with sexploits.

As for violence, the court compared the violent accounts in the book ("Iris's dart hit the grey [wolf] and he went down.") with another book in the inmates' library, Inner City Hoodlum ("The second shot entered his neck and ripped the muscles and cords out of his body..."), and with nightly television programming in holding that the "erotic thriller" was not likely to incite a riot.

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