United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RANDOLPH D. MOSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Nizar Trabelsi is charged with conspiring to kill U.S.
nationals outside the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C.
§§ 2332(b)(2) and 1111(a) and conspiring and
attempting to use weapons of mass destruction in violation of
18 U.S.C. §§ 2332a and 2. Since 2013, Trabelsi has
been held in pretrial confinement subject to special
administrative measures (“SAMs”) imposed on him
pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 501.3. Those measures, among
other things, prevent him from having contact with inmates
and other pretrial detainees and limit his contact with
family members and others. In 2014, Trabelsi moved to compel
modification of the conditions of his confinement, and the
Court granted in part and denied in part that motion.
United States v. Trabelsi, 2014 WL 12682266 (D.D.C.
June 18, 2014). According to the government, Trabelsi has
repeatedly violated his SAMs since then, and, as a result, it
has modified the SAMs by, among other things, rescinding
Trabelsi's authorization to have telephone contract with
Asma Berrou, who Trabelsi identifies as his wife and who the
government concedes Trabelsi married in a religious ceremony
held over the telephone.
now moves, once again, to modify his SAMs and, although not
covered by the SAMs, to modify other conditions of his
confinement. Dkt. 170, Dkt. 183. He first argues that the
SAMs should be modified to allow him to communicate with
Berrou by telephone and video conference and to interact with
other inmates. Dkt. 183 at 1. Second he argues that,
independent of the SAMs, the Court should order the jail to
allow him access to a dedicated laptop computer to assist in
the preparation for his trial and to provide him with the
opportunity for adequate exercise. Dkt. 170 at 8. Finally,
Trabelsi requests that the Court authorize the issuance of a
Rule 17 subpoena to the Rappahannock Regional Jail, where he
was previously held, so he can seek information about
purported mistreatment, which he contends may support his
motion to modify the SAMS.
explained below, the Court will deny Trabelsi's motions.
With respect to the SAMs, Trabelsi has not shown that the
conditions imposed, although onerous, are not reasonably
related to legitimate governmental interests. With respect to
the other conditions of his confinement, the Northern Neck
Regional Jail, where he is currently being held, has
adequately addressed the concerns he raises. Finally, with
respect to Trabelsi's request that the Court issue a
subpoena to the Rappahannock Regional Jail, the government
investigated the allegations at the Court's direction and
found no corroboration, and, in any event, because Trabelsi
is no longer being held at that facility, his allegations do
not support modification of the SAMs.
2013, the Defendant was extradited to the United States from
Belgium and housed in the Rappahannock Regional Jail
(“RRJ”) until September 2018, when he was
transferred to Northern Neck Regional Jail
(“NNRJ”). Dkt. 185 at 3. On November 1, 2013, the
then-Acting Attorney General issued SAMs pursuant to 28
C.F.R. § 501.3 to govern the conditions of
Defendant's confinement, id., which are
reevaluated and renewed annually. The current SAMs are
prescribed in a memorandum dated October 25, 2018, issued by
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Raymond M. Hulser to the
United States Marshal's Service. See Dkt. 185-2.
SAMs provide, inter alia, that for non-legal
communications, the Defendant is permitted to communicate via
mail and telephone with certain pre-authorized individuals.
See Dkt. 185-2 at 11-12. Such calls may not be
recorded, and the individuals the Defendant speaks to are
prohibited from disseminating his communications to third
parties. See id. “These communication
provisions have been in effect continuously since the
implementation of the SAMs to the present, ” Dkt. 185
at 4, but the most recent extension of the SAMs excludes the
Defendant's wife, Asma Berrou, from the list of
individuals with whom he can communicate by telephone,
see id. at 4 n.3. The SAMs also place limitations on
the Defendant's interactions with other inmates:
The inmate is limited, within . . . reasonable efforts and
existing confinement conditions, from having contact
(including passing or receiving any oral, written, or
recorded communications) with any other inmate . . . .that
could reasonably foreseeably result in the inmate
communicating (sending or receiving) information that could
circumvent the SAM's intent of significantly limiting the
inmate's ability to communicate (send or receive)
threatening or other terrorism-related information.
Dkt. 185-2 at 6. Though the SAMs do not require
administrative segregation, see Dkt. 185 at 4, which
is a form of separation from the general prison population,
both RRJ and NNRJ have determined that the Defendant should
be held in administrative segregation. See Dkt.
185-3 at 1-2 (Back Decl. ¶¶ 5-6).
2014, Defendant challenged the SAMs provisions prohibiting
statements from being divulged to a third party and those
prohibiting him from communicating with members of the media,
as well as non-SAMs provisions including the manner in which
he was restrained by handcuffs during legal visits and
restrictions on his recreation time. See Dkt. 37;
Dkt. 42. Chief Judge Roberts denied these motions in large
part, holding that the challenged conditions were reasonably
related to legitimate governmental interests in preventing
acts of violence and terrorism. See United States v.
Trabelsi, No. CR 06-89 (RWR), 2014 WL 12682266, at *3
(D.D.C. June 18, 2014).
Trabelsi brings a different challenge to his conditions of
confinement. He has filed two sets of motions, the first
requesting modification of the conditions of confinement
imposed by the SAMs and by NNRJ and the second seeking leave
to file a subpoena on the prior facility at which he was
held. See Dkt. 170; Dkt. 183; Dkt. 191. Defendant
challenges the SAMs provisions (1) limiting his contact with
other inmates; and (2) prohibiting him from communicating
with Berrou via telephone. See Dkt. 170 at 8; Dkt.
183 at 10. These motions also challenge non-SAMs conditions
imposed at NNRJ, including inadequate food and medical
treatment, access to showers, and denial of a dedicated
laptop computer for his legal use, see Dkt. 183 at
8-10; Dkt. 170 at 6-8, and allege mistreatment by prison
officials and excessive charges for phone calls at the prior
facility at which he was held, see Dkt. 183 at 9-10.
Finally, the Defendant separately seeks leave to issue a
third-party subpoena regarding his allegations of abuse at
RRJ. See Dkt. 191.
government may subject a pretrial detainee “to the
restrictions and conditions of the detention facility so long
as those conditions and restrictions do not amount to
punishment, or otherwise violate the Constitution.”
Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 536-37 (1979). As a
general matter, “when a prison regulation impinges on
inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid
if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological
interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89
(1987). The D.C. Circuit has emphasized the deferential
nature of this standard:
To prevent judicial overreaching into matters of prison
administration, courts are to uphold prison regulations that
impinge on inmates' constitutional rights as long as
those regulations are reasonably related to legitimate
penological interests . . . a stark departure from the
inflexible strict scrutiny ...