Williams v. Hansen, No. 15-2236 (7th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Williams, serving a 65‐year prison sentence for murder at the Pontiac Illinois maximum‐security prison, ordered the death certificate of the woman whom he murdered. Staff confiscated the certificate (which had arrived from the county clerk's office with an unsigned note: “There is a place in hell waiting for you, as you must know you will reap what you have sowed!” The stated reason for confiscation was “it posed a threat to the safety and security of the institution and would negatively impact Inmate Williams’ rehabilitation.” The district court dismissed a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, reasoning that confiscating the certificate had decreased the risk that inmates would retaliate against “boasting inmates” like Williams, and had protected the victim’s family from being identified. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to defendants not involved in the confiscation, but otherwise reversed. The right of an inmate to read the mail he receives, provided that his reading it would not infringe legitimate interests, is clearly established. The prison must present “some evidence” to show that the restriction is justified. A prison has a legitimate safety concern about “boasting inmates” carrying around trophies, but Williams asserted that he needed the death certificate for use in state post‐conviction proceedings; the defendants presented no contrary evidence.