Judge Says The Bureau Of Prisons Violated Michael Cohen's 1st Amendment Rights In Sending Him Back To Prison
from the wasn't-expecting-that dept
I wasn’t expecting this, but this morning Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered Michael Cohen released from prison, saying that the Bureau of Prisons violated his 1st Amendment rights. If you haven’t been following this story beyond the fact that Cohen was sent to prison last year for tax evasion and campaign finance violations, what you need to know is that (following his request for such), Cohen was furloughed from prison to home confinement in May, as the prison system tried to lessen the number of people in prison during the pandemic. A little over a month later, he was returned to prison. While there were reports it had to do with the fact that he was seen eating out, it turned out to be because he refused to sign an agreement saying he would not speak to the media in any form, including saying he could not publish the “tell-all” book he is supposedly writing.
In a bit of role reversal, Cohen — who had been President Trump’s legal asshole threatening people who criticized the President in the past — received a threat letter from the President’s new threatdog, Charles Harder, warning him not to publish the book.
While there was some belief that Cohen’s lawsuit claiming that being sent back to prison was retaliatory against his speech wouldn’t get very far, given that the Bureau of Prisons is given wide leeway in how they handle those who they have within their custody, Judge Hellerstein surprised many and recognized the obvious:
?How can I take any other inference than that it?s retaliatory?? Hellerstein asked prosecutors, who insisted in court papers and again Thursday that Probation Department officers did not know about the book when they wrote a provision of home confinement that severely restricted Cohen?s public communications.
?I?ve never seen such a clause in 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people and looking at terms of supervised release,? the judge said. ?Why would the Bureau of Prisons ask for something like this … unless there was a retaliatory purpose??
In ruling, Hellerstein said he made the ?finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory.? He added: ?And it?s retaliatory for his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish the book.?
This is a good, 1st Amendment supportive ruling, though I do wonder if it would have come out the same way if it weren’t for the high profile nature of Cohen and the president. The prison system, quite frequently, retaliates against prisoners for their speech, but it would be nice if that would start to change. Unfortunately, this will probably be a one off situation, rather than anything leading to real change.