Recent Legal Developments

AuthorJames E. Robertson
Published date01 June 2013
Date01 June 2013
Subject MatterRecent Legal Developments
Recent Legal Developments
Recent Legal Developments:
Correctional Case Law: 2012
James E. Robertson
This annual survey examines important prisoners’ rights cases decided by the U.S. Courts of Appeals
during 2012. These cases addressed constitutional questions concerning sexual misconduct, health
care, custodial suicide, protections due informants, involuntary servitude, First Amendment free-
doms, and solitary confinement. In addressing these constitutional questions, the U.S. Courts of
Appeals created new law and/or applied clearly established law. Because the U.S. Supreme Court will
only rarely grant certiorari to appellants, the U.S. Courts of Appeals remain the de facto courts of
last resort for all but a few prisoners who challenge the constitutionality of the manner of their
prisoners’ rights, U.S. Courts of Appeals
‘‘While most public reportage and even scholarly research deals with the U.S. Supreme Court,’
writes Cross (2007), ‘‘the circuit courts are much more important in setting and enforcing the law
of the United States’’ (p. 2). How so? Do the math, the Supreme Court hears some 75 cases a year.
By contrast, the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals hear around 50,000 cases. Also, it is more than math,
whereas the U.S. District Courts hear more cases, their decisions are more fact based than those
of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, where, as Cross observes, it is ‘‘almost always about defining the
law,’’ setting precedent within a multistate jurisdiction, and in some instances, creating ‘‘persuasive
precedent’’beyond a circuit’s jurisdiction (p. 3). As demonstrated in this survey, prisoners’ rights are
not an exception to the rule.
In keeping with previous installments, this annual survey examines select prisoners’ rights cases
decided by the U.S. Courts of Appeals during 2012 and recommended for full-text publication in the
Federal Reporter, Third Series. The author chose these cases because they addressed persistent,
important, or emerging constitutional issues about confinement in jails and prisons. Because a sum-
mary judgment for the defendants in these cases typically led to their appeal, the factual summaries
of cases discussed herein reflect the practice of the U.S. Courts of Appeals in such instances to view
all facts and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. As in past, this
Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN, USA
Corresponding Author:
James E. Robertson, Minnesota State University, 113 Armstrong Hall, Mankato, MN 56001, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
38(2) 256-270
ª2013 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016813479081

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