First Circuit Court Upholds Rejection Policies on Inmate's Mail

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 13, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The First Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the decision of the district court regarding a prisoner's right to notice of the rejection of mail by prison officials.

Here's a recap.

The prisoner, Darren Starr, argued a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process after mail that was addressed to him was rejected and returned to its senders.

The prison officials cited policy reasons. Officials notified Starr when one of the pieces of mail contained an unauthorized item. Nevertheless, prison policy did not afford him a chance to appeal the rejection decision before the mail was returned.

Starr was given neither a notice nor an opportunity to appeal on the other two pieces of mail, which were turned away due to formal deficiencies on the face of the envelope.

Starr raised the Fourteenth Amendment, arguing that the lack of notice and lack of opportunity to appeal were in violation of procedural due process.

In his argument, Starr cited the Procunier v. Martinez case. Briefly, the case dealt with censorship of an inmate's intimate personal correspondence and the court granted the right to notice, a reasonable opportunity to protest and an impartial hearing.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals distinguished the Martinez case from Starr's case. The difference between the two cases had to do with content-based rejection. In Starr's case, the letters were not rejected based on content, but on technicalities.

The prison policy affords the senders a chance to cure their deficiencies by sending them a notice explaining why the mail was rejected.

The current policy did allow for a chance to challenge the rejection of the letters, the court said. It just didn't afford that chance to the inmate. After all, the court noted, how could the inmate remedy the deficiencies if they related to envelop stickers or other facial technicalities?

For those reasons, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling and dismissed the complaint.

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