Federal appeals case focus: Pretrial detainee vs. convicted inmate

Persons arrested in Georgia and elsewhere who have been forced by jail or prison authorities to engage in labor while being classified as pretrial detainees might well want to take note of a case decision handed down last week by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In that case, the federal appeals court overruled the 2009 decision of a lower federal court in Vermont holding that the forced labor of a pretrial detainee did not constitute involuntary servitude and violate the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The appellate court remanded the matter to the district court, ordering a new trial.

Finbar McGarry was arrested in late 2008 on a weapons charge and forced to work in the prison laundry while awaiting trial. He was paid 25 cents an hour and developed a bacterial infection. McGarry never was convicted of any criminal act. Instead, he was released from prison seven months after his arrival there, with all charges against him being dropped by the state.

McGarry’s $11 million lawsuit in the lower court alleged that his forced labor was a clear constitutional violation. The lower court disagreed, stating that the claim lacked merit because prison laundry work “was nothing like the slavery that gave rise to the enactment of [the 13th] amendment.”

The appellate court ruled that such a view missed the point, with law being “well-settled that the term ‘involuntary servitude’ is not limited to chattel slavery-like conditions.”

The key distinction, stated the court, is in U.S. Supreme Court precedent holding that the constitutional rights of pretrial detainees who have not suffered a conviction are distinct from convicted prisoners.

The state has 90 days to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An experienced appellate attorney is always focused on all pertinent issues that might support a better outcome for any person arrested and charged with a state or federal crime. Contact a proven Atlanta federal appeals attorney for more information.

Source: ABC News, “Man forced to work in prison sues under anti-slavery amendment,” Alon Harish and Alexis Shaw, Aug. 10, 2012