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Name: Nordstrom v. Ryan
Case #: 12-15738
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 08/11/2014
Summary

Inmate’s claim that prison officials read his confidential letter to his attorney raised a valid Sixth Amendment claim and civil rights action should not have been dismissed. Nordstrom, an inmate on death row in an Arizona prison, prepared a letter to send to his attorney, which was marked “legal mail.” When he gave the mail to a prison guard for processing, the guard opened and read it. Nordstrom objected, and the guard told him he was authorized to read outgoing mail. The Department of Corrections rejected Nordstrom’s complaint, and the district court dismissed his civil rights action based on violations of the Sixth Amendment. The appellate court reversed the dismissal of the complaint. Officials have the right to inspect an inmate’s outgoing legal mail for suspicious features. But they do not have the right to read a confidential letter from an inmate to his lawyer. If Nordstrom’s allegations are true, the Department of Corrections violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by interfering with the confidential relationship between Nordstrom and his defense attorney. The case was remanded for further proceedings.