Shon Hopwood was in jail for participating in a series of bank robberies in Nebraska in 1997 and 1998, but he found his calling behind bars — Supreme Court practitioner.
“Jailhouse lawyers” often get a bad name — they are trying to do complicated things with little background and often the briefs are basically indecipherable. But sometimes people hit the books and figure it out. Hopwood was apparently one of them.
The New York Times’ Adam Liptak profiled Hopwood, who spent his behind bars learning to write legal briefs for his fellow prisoners. His first petition for cert was called “one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read” by former U.S. solicitor general Seth Waxman.
The Supreme Court heard the case (argued for free by Waxman) and the prisoner won 9-0 in the Supreme Court; his sentence was eventually reduced by four years.
Eventually Hopwood had a second cert petition granted by the Court and he also helped inmates in Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska win sentence reductions.
Hopwood was released in 2008 and now works for Cockle Printing in Omaha, which Liptak calls a leading printer of Supreme Court briefs.
The reformed bank robber is planning to apply to law school next year. Professor Richard Friedman, who worked with Hopwood on briefs for a recent Supreme Court case, has suggested his school, the University of Michigan, hold Hopwood a spot.
Liptak’s full NYT story is a great read and can be found here.
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