Global law firm Baker McKenzie has secured a key win in a pro bono case concerning a Florida pretrial detainee’s claim that his constitutional rights were violated when his mail to his lawyers was scanned into the jail's computer.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals revived Ricky Christmas' constitutional claim, which was previously dismissed by a district court. Christmas had sued Polk County jail employees claiming that the jail's mail scanning policy infringed on his right to free speech by impacting his ability to speak openly with his lawyers.

The decision is the first published opinion from any circuit on the constitutionality of scanning a prisoner's legal mail to an electronic database.

"Even the possibility that a jail official could read a prisoner's legal mail can violate the prisoner's First Amendment rights," the Court wrote in its opinion. The Court added, "Though Christmas does not know whether anyone other than he read his mail, he worried that the jail could and may have, since it had access to the computer into which he had scanned his mail. Because that claim is plausible on its face, we hold that the district court erred in dismissing it."

Christmas, a pro se litigant, was represented by Baker McKenzie Partner Jodi Avila and Associate Adrienne Harreveld, both based in Baker McKenzie's Miami office. The case will now return to the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

"We are very pleased with today's decision, which confirms that the policy of creating an electronic copy of legal mail violates Mr. Christmas’ rights under the First Amendment,” Jodi said. "We were honored to advocate for Mr. Christmas on this novel issue that will have implications for inmates across the United States looking to ensure their right to free speech is not chilled or inhibited."


About Baker McKenzie's Disputes Practices

Baker McKenzie is a Global Litigation Force. Consistently top-ranked by leading market surveys, our litigation practice represents clients in complex multijurisdictional litigation. Our cases frequently involve novel and precedent-setting issues in countries around the world.

Pro bono
We engage teams of problem-solvers on the most compelling social justice challenges around the globe.
Learn More about our pro bono work