How A 'Punk' Bank Robber Became A Hugely Successful Law Student

WikipediaShon Hopwood

A federal judge recently
admitted on public radiohe was wrong to sentence a bank robber to 13 years in prison.

That bank robber, Shon Hopwood, became a jailhouse lawyer who did something many attorneys never, ever accomplish. He got the U.S. Supreme Court to hear two cases brought by fellow inmates.

Back when Judge Richard Kopf sentenced him in 1999, however, Hopwood apparently didn’t excude promise. “I thought this kid was a punk,” Kopf said on the NPR program “All Things Considered.” But of course, Kopf conceded, “My viscera was wrong.”

When Hopwood got out of prison, he got a full scholarship to the University of Washington’s School of Law. Then he landed a clerkship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit — America’s second most important court after the U.S. Supreme Court. He also wrote a book.

Kopf, who’s on senior status and blogs at Hercules and the Umpire, has written, “Hopwood proves that my sentencing instincts suck.”

Hopwood, for his part, said on NPR that he’s never resented the 13-year sentence or thought it was unjust. Back when Kopf sentenced him, Hopwood said, he couldn’t have proven that he could turn his life around.

“That is the kind of intellectual honesty that humbles me,” Kopf said. “Shon’s ability to be introspective and intellectually honest is the hallmark I think of rehabilitation. Whether he needed almost 13 in prison to find that is an entirely different thing.”

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