BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota prison officials did not violate an inmate's rights when they took away religious magazines and a likeness of the American flag, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Reuben Larson had filed a petition asking the state Supreme Court to declare that prison officials were acting beyond their authority by taking his property. The high court, in a unanimous ruling, refused to do so.
"We hold the rules adopted by the penitentiary are reasonable, and reasonably related to legitimate (prison) interests," says the opinion, written by Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle. "Thus, the rules do not violate Larson's constitutional rights."
North Dakota prisoners may keep books and magazines only if they are sent directly to them from the publisher. Prisoners are not allowed to pass books and magazines among themselves.
The magazines taken from Larson were given him by other inmates, in violation of prison rules, court records say. One reason for the rule is that books and magazines can be used to transmit secret messages and contraband if shared by inmates.
Larson cut the likeness of the American flag from a newspaper, which was another violation of prison regulations, court documents say. Inmates are not allowed to have property that has been "altered from its original state," the prison's inmate handbook says.
"If Larson can cut out a patriotic symbol from a publication, then another inmate can cut out a symbol of white supremacy, and another inmate can cut out pornographic pictures," said Ken Sorenson, an assistant attorney general, in a court filing.
"Regardless of the content, if a magazine, newspaper, or book is not in its original state, there is a violation of the penitentiary's contraband, property, and publication rules," Sorenson wrote.
Larson argued the rules "do not violate or harm the order, security or housekeeping of the prison," the court's opinion says. "He argues the rules are arbitrary, unreasonable, and not remotely connected to the goal of preventing theft, strong-arming, escape or assault."
Larson shot Northeast Central District Judge Lawrence Jahnke in his Grand Forks courtroom in May 1992 during a hearing on Larson's failure to pay child support. He is serving a 28-year sentence for attempted murder.
A former Grand Forks city councilman, Larson was known for his arguments that he shouldn't have to get a driver's license and that tax laws were unconstitutional.