The Warren Court (1953–69)

Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Rights

What did the Warren Court do with respect to jailhouse lawyers?

The Warren Court ruled in Johnson v. Avery (1969) that the state of Tennessee could not bar inmates from assisting other inmates in legal matters unless it provided some avenue of legal assistance to inmates. The case involved William Joe Johnson, an inmate sentenced to life in prison for rape. Johnson alleged that prison officials denied him privileges accorded other inmates because he served as a jailhouse lawyer, assisting other inmates with their legal claims. The Court concluded that “unless and until the State provides some reasonable alternative to assist inmates in the preparation of their petitions for post-conviction relief,” the state could not ban inmates from serving as jailhouse lawyers.


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