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Prisoner legal powers



Jonathan Wilson's entry on a prisoner's abuse of the legal system is only the smallest tip of the iceberg. In a much more sinister tactic, Aryan Brotherhood gang members demand self-representation, and then use the resulting subpoena power to hold leadership meetings or attempt to determine "leaks" in the gang's code of silence; the legal system is being requisitioned to help the gang maintain power:

The fact that the 14 or so hardest of the hardcore AB members were housed in Palm Hall, the three-tiered Security Housing Unit (SHU, also described as �a prison within a prison�), was no freak accident of jurisprudence. Most of them had been subpoenaed (or �writted�) to Palm Hall in January 1981 to testify as defense witnesses in the murder trials of other AB members who were representing themselves in court. Inmates did this quite frequently � in fact, they joked about how easy it was to subpoena other inmates, as you did not have to show purpose to the judge.

A brave federal prosecutor, Gregory Jessner, in a relatively rare use of RICO for its intended purpose, is attempting to take down the gang in a trial currently ongoing in Los Angeles. You may recall the case from a comprehensive article in the New Yorker by David Grann in February 2004. The results haven't been pretty so far:

Last year's prosecution in Illinois of David Sahakian, alleged to be one of the AB's federal commissioners, was [a] debacle. Sahakian and two other Marion inmates were charged with murder and conspiracy in the stabbing death of a black inmate, Terry Walker. The trial lasted seven months, cost more than $3 million just for the defense mounted by court-appointed lawyers, and resulted in a hung jury on most of the charges. Sahakian was convicted on a single charge of possession of a homemade knife -- a tough charge to beat, since the shank was found concealed in his rectum.

(Alan Pendergrast, "Bringing Down the Brotherhood", Denver Westword, May 5; Matthew Duersten, "Who�ll Stop the Reign?", LA Weekly, Feb. 4-10; David Grann, "The Brand", The New Yorker, Feb. 16, 2004 (via Taylor)).

 

 


Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy
rmangual@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.