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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

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.