Appeals Court Upholds Former DOC Employee’s Right to Marry Prisoner, Reversing Lower Court

Affiliate: ACLU of Indiana
August 17, 2015 3:45 pm

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Indianapolis – The fundamental right to marry cannot be unreasonably denied, even in the prison setting, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled last Friday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana brought the case on behalf of Rebecca Riker, a former employee of an Indiana Department of Corrections contractor at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind., whose application to marry an inmate was denied by the DOC. Last September, the district court ruled in favor of the DOC, finding a “legitimate security risk” in allowing contact between a prisoner and former employee and saying the burden on Riker’s right to marry was “at most moderate” because she had not been “absolutely prevented from marrying a large portion of the eligible population of spouses.” The appeals court reversed that ruling and sent the case back to the district court.

Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana Senior Staff Attorney, said, “The prohibition of Ms. Riker’s marriage was not rationally related to legitimate penological ends and violated our client’s constitutional rights. We are happy with this ruling.”

In its decision, the Court cited a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case that found a Missouri prison regulation that restricted inmates from marrying without permission violated constitutional protections of due process. The Court also referenced the recent Supreme Court ruling in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, citing the “right to personal choice” and the dignity in an individuals’ “autonomy to make such profound choices.”

The ACLU of Indiana was assisted in this case by Lawrence M. Reuben of the Reuben Law Firm in Indianapolis. The decision in Rebecca Riker v. Bruce Lemmon, Case: 14-2910, was entered in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on August 14, 2015.

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