SCOTUS Denies Cert to Colorado Prisoner Rights Case

Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized use of solitary confinement

A prisoner rights case that originated in Colorado fell short of getting U.S. Supreme Court review, but it did get recognition from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The case, Apodaca v. Raemisch, challenged Colorado’s solitary confinement rules as cruel and unusual punishment. According to the case, three prisoners were held in solitary confinement for a range of 11 months to several years without being granted access to the outdoors. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case, citing underdeveloped facts; Sotomayor concurred with the majority but also penned an eight-page response to the cert denial that criticized the practice of solitary confinement. While the Supreme Court decided it would not hear this case, Sotomayor’s opinion seems to leave the door open for others.

“A punishment need not leave physical scars to be cruel and unusual,” Sotomayor wrote.

The three inmates, Jonathan Apodaca, Joshua Vigil and Donnie Lowe had been kept in solitary confinement in the Colorado State Pentientiary for extended periods of time. According to a prior case, the “administrative segregation” cells are approximately 90 square feet, have a light that is left on 24 hours a day and are designed to restrict vocal communication through the cells so that someone could hear yelling but not talking from inside the cell.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the October 15, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.