Jailhouse Lawyer Under Investigation

February 28, 2008

From the Associated Press on February 27, 2008...

The prison law clerk who convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a fellow inmate's drug possession case is being investigated by South Carolina's Attorney General Henry McMaster for practicing law without a license. Jailhouse lawyer Michael Ray, who is serving time for real-estate fraud, drafted an appeal for pro-se litigant Keith Lavon Burgess arguing that Burgess' 20-year mandatory minimum sentence was inappropriate because his prior drug conviction was not a felony but rather a misdemeanor. While Ray does not have college or law school education, he drafted a fairly clever appeal and now the Supreme Court has granted review of the case.

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Stanford Law School Professor Jeff Fisher will be arguing the case before the Supreme Court on Burgess' behalf.

The case under review is: Burgess v. United States
Supreme Court Docket: 06-11429
Decision Below: 478 F3d 658
Lower Court Case Number: 04-4997
Questions Presented:

  1. Whether the term "felony drug offense" as used in the federal statute requiring imposition of enhanced mandatory minimum 20 years' imprisonment when drug offender has "prior conviction for a felony drug offense" must be read in pari material with federal statutes defining both "felony" and "felony drug offense," so as to require imposition of a minimum 20 year sentence only if prior drug conviction is both punishable by more than one year in prison and characterized as a felony by controlling law?
  2. When the court finds that a criminal statute is ambiguous, must it then turn to rule of lenity to resolve ambiguity?


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