Hartford partner William Murray appeared before the Connecticut Supreme Court on October 25 on behalf of William Coleman, a prison inmate who has been on a self-imposed hunger strike for four years. Coleman has not eaten any solid food in that period, and has sustained himself on milk, juice and nutritional supplements, and on occasion has refused everything except water and ice chips. Murray's appearance was reported on by the Hartford Courant in the October 25 online edition of Courant.com.
Prison officials, fearing Coleman would die or face permanent organ damage, obtained a court order allowing them to force-feed him on numerous occasions.
The Supreme Court is weighing arguments between an inmate's rights and the obligations of the prison system.
Murray, who is representing Coleman pro bono on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, argued that the First Amendment right to free speech allows Coleman to go on a hunger strike and his 14th Amendment right to privacy allows him to refuse medical treatment, such as force feeding.
The counter argument, presented by a Connecticut Assistant Attorney General, is that correction officials face "Herculean obstacles" in caring for prisoners while maintaining safety and security, and Coleman's actions could potentially trigger copycat hunger strikers, disrupting the prison system.
Coleman is using the hunger strike as a protest against a "hideously broken and hideously corrupt" judicial system. Coleman was convicted in 2005 and is serving an eight-year sentence for raping his wife during a bitter divorce and custody battle. His appeal was denied and he is scheduled for release in December 2012.
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