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Hunger Strike Stopped by Court Order - Constitutional Rights give way to Legitimate Penological Inte

Hunger Strike Stopped by Court Order - Constitutional Rights give way to Legitimate Penological Interests

The United States Constitution embraces the idea of freedom and liberty. Freedom from government infringement in our daily lives and control over what we do (or do not do) is a vital liberty interest which, when challenged. requires the government to justify its actions. Here, Petitioner claims the government "violate[d] his constitutional rights to refuse medical treatment and to privacy, liberty and free speech and that petitioner failed to show any sufficient state interest that is compelling enough to overcome his constitutional rights."

As with all liberty interests, there are limitations. The balance is struck between liberty interests and government interests: "When an inmate commences a hunger strike, which, if continued, would create a substantial risk of imminent death or serious permanent injury, a force-feeding order is warranted if the state's intervention, even if contrary to the inmate's constitutional rights, is reasonably related to its legitimate penological interests, including those in preserving the inmate's life and maintaining safety and discipline within the facility" (citing Matter of Bezio v Dorsey, 21 NY3d 93, 99, 101-107 [2013]).

Petitioner was an inmate held by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) who commenced a hunger strike:

The record shows that respondent had repeatedly engaged in hunger strikes since May 2013 with the stated purpose of obtaining a transfer to a maximum A security facility, and that respondent had stated that he would continue his hunger strike until he died or was transferred. The unrefuted testimony of the facility's medical director showed that respondent's hunger strike, if continued, would result in his death or irreversible organ damage and that respondent was aware of such risks. He further testified that it might be necessary to force feed respondent throughout his incarceration to prevent his death and serious injuries. The record supports a finding that respondent intended to pursue his hunger strike until he was transferred to another facility based on a reclassification of his status or until he died from malnutrition. We look no further than the holding in Matter of Bezio v Dorsey (supra) to reach the conclusion that the state's interest in preserving respondent's life outweighs any claimed infringement of respondent's constitutional rights. On the record before us, Supreme Court properly issued a force-feeding order for the duration of respondent's incarceration.

Interestingly enough, we do not know from the case why the hunger strike was commenced. The case is Matter of Martuscello v. Jua TT, 2016 NY Slip Op 08905 [145 AD3d 1355] (3rd Dep't. Dec. 29, 2016).

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