Earlier today it was reported that Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hobson told USA Today that he would not allow Aaron Hernandez to marry his fiance Shayanna Jenkins. Hobson said:
”I don’t subscribe to that. I feel that those rights are things that you access on the outside, if you’re a good citizen, we’ll do everything we can to not have that happen.”
Unfortunately for Hobson, despite being in charge of the prison where Hernandez is being held, he may not be in a position to deny Hernandez the right to marry.
The United States Constitution affords a number of protections to the citizens of this country and one of those is the right to marry. Once a person is in prison however, their rights are drastically diminished. Prisons are given a great amount of discretion over what they will and will not allow prisoners to do. This does not mean however, that prisoners can be deprived of all of their rights. Inmates frequently challenge prisons in court over their rights and the right to marry is no exception.
In a landmark decision that legalized interracial marriage, the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia 388 U.S. 1 (1967), held that the right to marry is a fundamental right that is protected by the ‘liberty’ element of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States (to provide some perspective on the importance of this case, the decision has been recently brought up in the fight for same-sex marriage).
Applying Loving to prisoners rights, the Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley 482 U.S. 78 (1987), addressed the constitutionality of two prison regulations, one being a prisoners right to marry. The Court established a reasonableness standard when deciding whether a prison regulation that ‘impinges’ upon an inmates constitutional rights is valid. The Court used four factors in deciding whether a regulation was reasonable:
- Whether there is a valid, rational connection between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it.
- Whether there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates.
- The impact the accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally.
- Finally, the absence of ready alternatives is evidence of the reasonableness of a prison regulation.
The Court in Turner struck down the Missouri prison regulation preventing prisoners from marrying based on the fact that it violated the prisoners constitutional rights.
If Sheriff Hobson does not allow Hernandez to marry and Hernandez decides to challenge that decision, the court may take into consideration whether Hernandez is only doing so to prevent his fiance from testifying against him. It will be difficult however, for a court to conclude that he has a single motivation because Hernandez and Jenkins were engaged and have a child together. In addition, as I mentioned in an earlier post, courts in Massachusetts have generally been reluctant to force a spouse to testify even if the marriage seemed to have been consummated for the sole purpose of invoking ‘spousal privilege’.
What does all of this mean? It means that although Sheriff Hobson is ambitious and is trying to protect the integrity of the case, it’s likely that he will not be able to deprive Hernandez of his right to marry his fiance, Shayanna Jenkins.