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Prison Guard's Reading of "Legal Mail" Not a Violation of Prisoner's Rights

By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

Stanley v. Vining, No. 08-2634, concerned a pro se prisoner's 28 U.S.C. section 1983 suit claiming that a prison gaurd violated his constitutional rights by reading his "legal mail" and for issuing a prison misconduct charge against him in retaliation for making the complaint.

As the court wrote: "Although Stanley has a First Amendment right to be free from unreasonable mail censorship, he has not First Amendment right that prevents a guard from opening his mail in his presence and reading it with an eye to determining if illegal conduct is afoot.  The law has not established that reading properly marked legal mail in inmates' presence violates constitutional rights in and of itself."

In affirming the district court's dismissal for failure to state a claim, the court held that defendant's have provided the prisoner with a post-deprivation hearing and have not violated procedural due process and his substantive due process claim under the First Amendment for denial of access to the courts by interfering with his "legal mail" fails as there must be some allegation that the prison official's conduct amounted to denial of access to the courts or some form of censorship of speech.  Lastly, with respect to the Sixth Amendment claim for deprivation of the right to counsel through the guard's interferences with the prisoner's mail, he fails to allege that the guard's conduct created any barrier to his relationship with counsel.

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