According to www.dui.lifetips.com, New Year's Eve is not the worst night for drunk driving arrests in the United States. That dubious honor belongs to Thanksgiving. Regardless of the date though, driving while under the influence of alcohol is a huge problem--nearly 40% of auto fatalities involve alcohol, and almost 30% of Americans will be in some sort of alcohol-related accident at some point in their lives.
Enter Ronald Yeskey. In 1994, he was arrested for driving drunk. Adding to his problems, he attempted to avoid arrest by running from the police. He was quickly convicted of drunk driving, escape, and resisting arrest. His trial judge sentenced him to 18-36 months in a Pennsylvania prison. The judge recommended the Department of Corrections place him in the Pennsylvania Motivational Boot Camp, which was a program focused on rehabilitation that was less prison-like than most other DOC settings.
The Pennsylvania DOC refused to allow Mr. Yeskey admission to the boot camp program, though, citing his hypertension (high blood pressure) as the reason. They argued that boot camp was physically strenuous, and Mr. Yeskey's physical condition would keep him from being able to safely complete the program.
But, the state of Pennsylvania forgot the Federal Government enacted the Americans With Disabilities Act just four years earlier. Mr. Yeskey sued the State DOC, stating they were in violation of the ADA.
The Pennsylvania DOC argued the ADA did not apply to boot camp programs administered by state prisons. The trial court agreed with the DOC, and Mr. Yeskey lost his suit. He appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, who reversed the trial court's decision, meaning they found Mr. Yeskey's rights were violated under the ADA.
The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections then appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court, who agreed to hear the case. In 1998, they affirmed the Appeals Court's decision, thus issuing the final word on the matter--The Americans With Disabilities Act clearly applied to state prisons.
The Court's ruling was unanimous, and Justice Scalia (who is no friend to criminal offenders, or any law that he sees as reshaping the Constitution) wrote, "(1) state prisons fall squarely within the definition...of a 'public entity' subject to Title II [of the ADA], (2) the text of the ADA provides no basis for distinguishing the recreational activities, medical services, and educational and vocational programs provided to prison inmates from the 'services, programs, or activities' provided by other public entities that are subject to Title II, (3) Title II's requirements and 'participation' in programs, does not exclude prisoners who are being held against their will, and (4) the failure of the ADA's statement of findings and purpose...to mention prisons is irrelevant in the context of an unambiguous statutory text."
In essence, the US Supreme Court argued the language in the Americans With Disabilities Act was so clear (even if Justice Scalia's writing wasn't clear at all) that it obviously must apply to prisons, and it obviously must apply to people who have done very bad things. Disabled US citizens retain their right to reasonable accommodations, even when they have broken the law and are serving a prison sentence. Since hypertension is a condition covered under the ADA, the Pennsylvania DOC had no choice but to allow Mr. Yeskey into the boot camp with special monitoring and accommodations for his high blood pressure.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.