Courts Rule Mumia's Rights Violated

Revolutionary Worker #977, October 11, 1998

On August 25 a victory was won in the battle to free revolutionary political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. A federal court in Philadelphia ruled that Mumia has a right to have access to the media and to function as a journalist, and a right not to have his legal mail opened by prison authorities. This decision was the result of an appeal of a lower court decision against Mumia.

The case stems from events in 1994 and 1995, leading up to, during and just after Mumia's Post-Conviction Relief Appeal (PCRA). This includes the period from June to August 1995 when Mumia was under an active death sentence. As Mumia's legal team prepared his final appeal of a death sentence, prison authorities launched a number of retaliatory attacks on Mumia. There were three prongs to their attack.

First, Mumia was punished by prison authorities for "operating a business from prison" after the publication of his book, Live From Death Row. Second, prison authorities then used this as an excuse to open sensitive confidential legal mail, allegedly searching for evidence of the "business." Third, at the same time Mumia's paralegals were banned from the prison at SCI Greene. His inability to receive confidential legal mail or paralegals effectively cut Mumia off from his attorneys and supporters outside at just the time he was preparing his final legal appeal of his death sentence. It delayed the filing of his PCRA.

In August, the federal court found that the prison launched an investigation into Mumia's journalism only after "public complaints concerning Jamal's proposed NPR commentaries were made by the Fraternal Order of the Police." The court also said that Mumia's attorneys showed evidence that the Department of Corrections (DOC) knew Mumia had been writing since 1989 but didn't act against him until 1994 when the FOP complained and that prison authorities helped another prisoner to publish and publicize a book he had written. They ruled the investigation of Mumia had to do with the content of his writing and was a violation of his first amendment rights. The district was ordered to grant an injunction against it.

The federal court also found that the opening of Mumia's legal mail violated his rights. In the hearing before the federal court last December, Mumia's attorney Jere Krakoff said that in 1994 and 1995 10 pieces of mail were opened, read, copied and distributed outside the DOC (Department of Corrections), including two letters containing sensitive legal strategy for Mumia's PCRA hearing. The federal court noted that the "Department wrongfully open privileged letters from his counsel" and inexplicably forwarded copies to the Office of the General Counsel, "the office charged with advising the Governor of Pennsylvania on, among other things, signing death warrants." The court found that three letters were forwarded directly to the governor's office.

The federal judges referred to the argument by the lower court and the prosecutors that they had to open Mumia's mail to see if he was conducting a "business or profession" as "nonsensical." They ruled that this violates "the privacy of his legal mail and thus directly interferes with his ability to communicate with counsel" and ordered the DOC to stop opening his legal mail using this pretext.

However, on the third point, access to the prison by Mumia's paralegals, the court ruled against Mumia. The court ruled that Mumia did not show that when his paralegals were prevented from visiting him in prison this "delayed or hindered" his appeal. They claimed prison "security concerns" outweighed the burden this placed on Mumia's defense.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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