Legendary criminal lawyer J. Tony Serra’s lawsuit over the slave wages he earned while in prison has gone up in smoke.
Serra, whose penchant for 'self-medication’ is well known, served time in the Lompoc minimum security camp for stiffing the IRS. He and other inmates sued the Bureau of Prisons, saying its wage policies violated their Fifth Amendment rights. They received between $19 and $145 per month. Northern District Judge Martin Jenkins dismissed the suit, and on Friday the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that ruling (.pdf).
“Prisoners do not have a legal entitlement to payment for their work, and the Due Process Clause protects only against deprivation of existing interests in life, liberty, or property,” wrote Judge Richard Clifton. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Senior Judge J. Clifford Wallace joined him.
The Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery specifically exempted inmates, for whom uncompensated labor could be considered part of the punishment, Clifton said.