TRULINCS Electronic Law Library

Gone are the old days of rows upon rows of dusty law books crowding the shelves in federal prison law libraries. With the advent of the TRULINCS computers, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has transitioned paper-based law libraries into electronic law libraries. This new law library, which all federal prisoners have access to, is called the Electronic Law Library and is available on all Education Department computers.

The TRULINCS Electronic Law Library is surprisingly expansive and easy-to-use. Offered through a contract with LexisNexis, one of the two premier online legal research tools (Westlaw is the other), federal prisoners have access to all public Federal Bureau of Prisons program statements, federal case law for every district and appellate court, case law from the Supreme Court, BNA's Criminal Law Reporter, the United States Sentencing Guidelines and a dozen criminal practice books, including books on habeas corpus, civil litigation, prisoners' rights, and military criminal proceedings.

The bonus is that due to everything being in an electronic format, prisoners can easily search by keyword or key term for what they are seeking. The law library is open virtually any time the Education Department and regular leisure library are.

The use of the Electronic Law Library is free for all prisoners, both those in general population and those in special management/housing units. Prisoners can spend up to two hours at a time within the law library folio before having to log off for 30 minutes. While searching and browsing are free, prisoners must pay for any pages that they want to print at a cost of $0.15 per page.

The TRULINCS Electronic Law Library does not provide access to the internet or state case law, it only provides federal case law. This means you can find other inmates' cases on the computers if the case resulted in a published opinion by the judge. But this does require the case to have been decided in a U.S. District Court, one of the Courts of Appeals, or the U.S. Supreme Court. The case, if a district court case, must also be of particular importance to warrant being published.

If your case is on the computer, unfortunately you can not have it removed since the contents of the Electronic Law Library are provided by LexisNexis. Plus, if your case could be of use to others appealing their cases, then it's only right to provide access to it. While some prisoners do attempt to figure out what people are in prison for by searching their name on the TRULINCS computers, this is often less productive than one would think. On the other hand, if someone is extorting or pressing you due to your case, that is a violation of Federal Bureau of Prisons disciplinary regulations.

Case updates are uploaded once a month (usually the third Tuesday of the month). Other documents, e.g., BNA's Criminal Law Reporter, are updated more frequently. Various regularly updated documents on the Electronic Law Library are updated at different frequencies.

Unlike other prison activities, access to the law library computers can not be restricted, as access to the courts is a right that cannot be restricted.

The only obvious downsides to the Electronic Library are that prisoners can't save settings or bookmark cases for future use, and only published case law is available. While very helpful, the fact that not all cases are available and you can't access the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER.gov) site does somewhat limit the usefulness of the service. Regardless, the current TRULINCS Electronic Law Library is much more advanced from the previous law library consisting of bound books.

Note that the Electronic Law Library does not provide you with everything needed to appeal your case. There is no substitute for competent counsel. Given the desperate straights that prisoners are often in when appealing their cases, it is often better to hire an attorney or, if you can't afford one, pay a quality jailhouse lawyer to help you. Do note that appointed counsel is usually available for direct appeals, but not necessarily for collateral attacks on convictions such as federal habeas corpus.

Contact us for more information on the TRULINCS Electronic Law Library or other legal matters relating to prisoners.

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