Shaw v. Murphy
532 U.S. 223 (2001)

  • Tracy was a prisoner who was accused to assaulting a guard. Murphy, another prisoner, decided to help Tracy by sending him a letter with legal advice.
  • The prison sanctioned Murphy for interfering with Tracy’s proceedings, and generally being insolent.
  • Murphy appealed, claiming that the prison’s rules were an unconstitutional infringement on his 1st Amendment right to free speech.
    • Murphy argued that he should be allowed to provide legal assistance to other prisoners.
  • The Trial Court found for the prison. Murphy appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that there was a compelling government interest in maintaining order in the prison system, and that the rule was rationally related to the interest.
  • The Appellate Court reversed. The prison appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there was a balancing test between Murphy’s 1st Amendment rights and the governmental interest, and in this case the interest was no strong enough to override Murphy’s rights.
      • The Court found that Murphy was due special extra protection because he was giving legal advice.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and upheld the prison rule.
    • The US Supreme Court acknowledged that prisoners do have some level of 1st Amendment protection.
    • However, the Court found that the prison’s interest in administering the prison was enough of a compelling government interest to override Murphy’s 1st Amendment rights.
    • The Court found that Murphy was entitled to no special extra protection just because he was giving legal advice.
  • See Turner v. Safley (482 U.S. 78 (1987)), which found that restrictions on prisoner’s communications to other inmates are constitutional if the restrictions are reasonably related to legitimate penologicial interests.