Civil and Human Rights

Supreme Court Further Limits Access to Justice for Indigent Defendants

Washington, DC–Today, in a ruling that conflicts with the vast majority of lower federal courts that have considered the issue, the Supreme Court held in Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson that a dismissed claim still pending appeal of that dismissal counts as a strike under the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s three strikes provision.

“This case is one in an all-too-long line of cases that makes it harder for people to get through the courthouse doors,” noted CAC Appellate Counsel Brianne Gorod. “Further, there are fundamental constitutional values including due process and equal protection that go unacknowledged in the Court’s opinion today.”

“Essentially, the Supreme Court is gambling with the principle of fundamental access to the courts on a bet that prisoners do not bring meritorious claims,” said Constitutional Accountability Center Chief Counsel Elizabeth Wydra. “Unfortunately, the only people who stand to lose that bet are indigent litigants seeking access to the justice system.”

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Additional Resources:

Constitutional Accountability Center’s merits-stage friend of the court brief

Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson case page

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Constitutional Accountability Center (www.theusconstitution.org) is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. 

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