ACLU Petitions Court for Release of Richard Hatch

September 9, 2009 12:00 am

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Winner of “Survivor” television show jailed in Barnstable County after criticizing his prosecution for tax offenses


BOSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today filed a habeas corpus petition asking a federal court to release Richard Hatch from jail in Barnstable County. Mr. Hatch gained notoriety for having won the first season of the television show “Survivor,” and for the legal battle regarding his taxes that ensued.

While serving his sentence under home confinement in Rhode Island, Mr. Hatch conducted three television interviews, including one with the Today Show, during which he stated his opinion that he was prosecuted, in part, because of his sexual orientation (Mr. Hatch is gay) and his TV notoriety. The day after the interview, the prosecutor on his case called in to a radio station and said on the show that Mr. Hatch was “delusional” and his theories “ludicrous.” Mr. Hatch then called in to the radio show to defend himself against the prosecutor’s comments.

The day after the radio show aired, the Bureau of Prisons had Mr. Hatch taken into custody in his home and placed him in solitary confinement at Barnstable County Jail, as punishment for what they say was “unauthorized contact with the public.”

“The First Amendment protects people’s right to publicly criticize the government — even when they are incarcerated or serving a sentence. The Supreme Court has held that security needs inside a prison may justify limitations on media access, but those security concerns did not apply to Mr. Hatch while at his home,” said Laura Rótolo, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts.

“Our Constitution protects a marketplace of ideas, in which individuals can criticize public officials, and in which members of the public can form their own opinions about what is true and what is false,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “The arrest and jailing of Mr. Hatch following his recent interviews suggest that he is being punished for comments that he had every right to make.”

The habeas corpus petition argues that the government had no right to re-imprison Mr. Hatch, and that doing so violated his First Amendment rights.

Mr. Hatch is represented by attorneys at the ACLU of Massachusetts and cooperating counsel Michael Schneider and Ryan Schiff of the law firm Salsberg & Schneider.

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