Procunier v. Martinez
416 U.S. 396 (1974)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396 (1974)

Procunier v. Martinez

No. 72-1465

Argued December 3, 1973

Decided April 29, 1974

416 U.S. 396

Syllabus

Appellees, prison inmates, brought this class action challenging prisoner mail censorship regulations issued by the Director of the California Department of Corrections and the ban against the use of law students and legal paraprofessionals to conduct attorney-client interviews with inmates. The mail censorship regulations, inter alia, proscribed inmate correspondence that "unduly complain[ed]," "magnif[ied] grievances," "express[ed] inflammatory political, racial, religious or other views or beliefs," or contained matter deemed "defamatory" or "otherwise inappropriate." The District Court held these regulations unconstitutional under the First Amendment, void for vagueness, and violative of the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of procedural due process, and it enjoined their continued enforcement. The court required that an inmate be notified of the rejection of correspondence, and that the author of the correspondence be allowed to protest the decision and secure review by a prison official other than the original censor. The District Court also held that the ban against the use of law students and legal paraprofessionals to conduct attorney-client interviews with inmates abridged the right of access to the courts and enjoined its continued enforcement. Appellants contend that the District Court should have abstained from deciding the constitutionality of the mail censorship regulations.

Held:

1. The District Court did not err in refusing to abstain from deciding the constitutionality of the mail censorship regulations. Pp. 400-404.

2. The censorship of direct personal correspondence involves incidental restrictions on the right to free speech of both prisoners and their correspondents, and is justified if the following criteria are met: (1) it must further one or more of the important and substantial governmental interests of security, order, and the rehabilitation of inmates, and (2) it must be no greater than is necessary to further the legitimate governmental interest involved. Pp. 416 U. S. 404-414.

Page 416 U. S. 397

3. Under this standard, the invalidation of the mail censorship regulations by the District Court was correct. Pp. 416 U. S. 415-416.

4. The decision to censor or withhold delivery of a particular letter must be accompanied by minimum procedural safeguards against arbitrariness or error, and the requirements specified by the District Court were not unduly burdensome. Pp. 416 U. S. 417-419.

5. The ban against attorney-client interviews conducted by law students or legal paraprofessionals, which was not limited to prospective interviewers who posed some colorable threat to security or to those inmates thought to be especially dangerous and which created an arbitrary distinction between law students employed by attorneys and those associated with law school programs (against whom the ban did not operate), constituted an unjustifiable restriction on the inmates' right of access to the courts. Johnson v. Avery,393 U. S. 483. Pp. 416 U. S. 419-422.

354 F.Supp. 1092, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined and in Part II of which DOUGLAS, J., joined, post, p. 416 U. S. 422. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 416 U. S. 428.

Page 416 U. S. 398

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