Monday, February 8, 2010

Law Library Changes Convict's Life

Adam Liptak profiles Shon Hopwood, a convicted bank robber who spent most of his time in prison in the prison's law library and became an accomplished appellate advocate. For instance, he drafted a cert. petition for an inmate named Fellers.
The court received 7,209 petitions that year from prisoners and others too poor to pay the filing fee, and it agreed to hear just eight of them. One was Fellers v. United States.

“It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read,” said Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general who has argued more than 50 cases in the Supreme Court. “It was just terrific.”
A Mediocre Criminal, but an Unmatched Jailhouse Lawyer, N.Y. Times, Feb. 8, 2010. The Court ruled for Fellers, 9-0.

Hopwood has since had another cert. petition granted and has helped inmates with lower court cases too. After his release from prison, he became a paralegal at a printer that prepares Supreme Court briefs. Seth Waxman is still a strong supporter, and Hopwood is considering law school.
The law library changed Mr. Hopwood’s life.

“I kind of flourished there,” he said. “I didn’t want prison to be my destiny. When your life gets tipped over and spilled out, you have to make some changes.”


Are you surprised that someone convicted of bank robbery would consider law school because he'd never be admitted to the bar? Don't jump to conclusions.

Applicants for the bar must show good moral character, true, but a criminal record isn't necessarily a deal breaker. If the applicant shows rehabilitation, then many jurisdictions allow bar admission. See George L. Blum, Annot., Criminal Record as Affecting Applicant's Moral Character for Purposes of Admission to the Bar, 3 A.L.R.6th 49 (2005).

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