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ACLU of Massachusetts Petitions Court for Release of Richard Hatch, Jailed for Speaking to the Media

Posted: September 10, 2009|Category: Free Speech Category: Rights of Ex-Offenders

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has filed a habeas corpus petition asking a federal court to release Rhode Island resident Richard Hatch from jail in Barnstable County.  Mr. Hatch was arrested and is being held in jail for talking to members of the media about his tax evasion case without getting formal approval from the federal Bureau of Prisons.  The petition follows unsuccessful efforts by the Rhode Island ACLU to have the disciplinary charges against him dismissed.  Mr. Hatch gained notoriety for having won the first season of the television show "Survivor," and for the legal battle regarding his taxes that ensued.

While serving his sentence under home confinement in Rhode Island, Mr. Hatch conducted three television interviews, including one with the Today Show, during which he stated his opinion that he was prosecuted, in part, because of his sexual orientation (Mr. Hatch is gay) and his TV notoriety. The day after the interview, the prosecutor on his case called in to a radio station and said on the show that Mr. Hatch was "delusional" and his theories "ludicrous." Mr. Hatch then called in to the radio show to defend himself against the prosecutor's comments.

The day after the radio show aired, the Bureau of Prisons had Mr. Hatch taken into custody in his home and placed him in solitary confinement at Barnstable County Jail, as punishment for what they say was "unauthorized contact with the public."

"The First Amendment protects people's right to publicly criticize the government -- even when they are incarcerated or serving a sentence. The Supreme Court has held that security needs inside a prison may justify limitations on media access, but those security concerns did not apply to Mr. Hatch while at his home," said Laura Rótolo, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts.

“It is important to understand the ramifications of the BOP’s action. If Mr. Hatch can be punished merely for speaking out about his case, he could just as easily be punished and jailed merely for speaking out against the Bureau of Prisons’ policies or practices. Such a limit on public discourse, even of an individual who has been convicted of a crime, is intolerable in a society that values and protects public discourse on important issues,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU.

The habeas corpus petition argues that the government had no right to re-imprison Mr. Hatch, and that doing so violated his First Amendment rights.

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