Although the rules explained in this chapter are very complicated, it is important to keep in mind that most judges will understand that you are not a lawyer, and they won’t disregard your arguments just because you cite a case wrong. Lawyers spend years perfecting their legal research and writing skills, and usually have the benefit of well-stocked libraries, expensive computers, and paid paralegals to help them. Most prisoners don’t have any of these things, so just do your best. This is especially true with writing. You should not worry about trying to use fancy legal terms or make your writing sound professional. Don’t try to write like you think a lawyer would write. Just write clearly and simply.

There is a simple formula for writing clearly about legal issues that you can remember by thinking of the abbreviation: IRAC. IRAC stands for:

Idea
Rule
Application
Conclusion

Some people find that creating an outline, making a  diagram, or drawing a picture is helpful in writing  IRAC formulas. These methods can help organize your thoughts, facts, and cases.

Say you have an Eighth Amendment claim based on exposure to secondhand smoke.  Below is a sample of how to do a very simple outline. Your outline may be more complex or simple, depending on what works for you.

First you would go to the section in Chapter Three that applies to you, write the rule out for proving that claim, and put in citations to start keeping track of where you are getting the quotes from:

  1. To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, the prison officials must act with deliberate indifference to a prison condition that exposes a prisoner to an unreasonable risk of serious harm. Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33 (1993).

Now, break the above sentence into the different parts you will have to prove:

1. To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, the prison officials must:

(a) act with deliberate indifference to a prison condition that

(b) exposes a prisoner to an unreasonable risk of serious harm.

Then, you look for cases in this Handbook or through your own research that defines more how you prove (a) and (b) above:

1. To prove an Eighth Amendment violation, the prison officials must:

(a) act with deliberate indifference to a prison condition

i. Deliberate indifference is when prison officials ignore an obvious and serious danger. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994).

(b) exposes a prisoner to an unreasonable risk of harm

i. Exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke is an unreasonable risk of serious harm. Talal v. White, 403 F.3d 423 (6th Cir. 2005)

Hopefully you can see how each of the (i) sections explain each part of the rule. Now, you want to think about what has happened — the facts — that fit each of those sections. Those facts will become your application section.

Now, lets follow IRAC to actually draft your section.  First, start with the Idea that you plan to support through your argument. For example:

Warden Wally violated the Eighth Amendment by putting me in a cell with a prisoner who smokes cigarettes.

Next, state the Rule of law that sets out the standard for your idea. If you can, you should also explain the rule in this section, by citing cases that are similar to yours. For example, first state the full rule:

Prison Officials violate the Eighth Amendment when they act with deliberate indifference to a prison condition that exposes a prisoner to an unreasonable risk of serious harm. Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33 (1993).

Then we explain, in two separate sentences, the two clauses from the above rule:

Prison officials act with deliberate indifference when they ignore an obvious and serious danger. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994). Exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke presents an unreasonable risk of serious harm. Talal v. White, 403 F.3d 423 (6th Cir. 2005)

Third is the Application. For this step, you want to state the facts that show how your rights were violated. You should show the court how and why the rule applies to the facts of your specific case. Be detailed and specific, brief and to the point. For example:

As I wrote in my complaint, upon admission to Attica Correctional Facility, I was placed in a cell with Joe Shmoe. Joe Shmoe smokes two packs of cigarettes a day in our cell. The window in our cell doesn’t open, so I am forced to breathe smoky air. I spend about twelve hours a day in this smoky environment. I sent a letter to Warden Wally on May 6, 2010 explaining this problem, and he did not respond. I sent him another letter two weeks later, and he still hasn’t dealt with the problem. Then, in June, I used the prison grievance system to request a transfer to another cell due to the smoke, and when that grievance was denied, I appealed it. Guards pass by my cell everyday and hear me coughing, and smell and see the smoke. I yell to the guards to tell the warden about this problem. I have been coughing a lot.

Finally, you should finish your section with a Conclusion. The conclusion should state how your rights were violated in one or two sentences. For example:

Warden Wally’s refusal to move me to a different cell or otherwise end my exposure to secondhand smoke amounts to deliberate indifference to an unreasonable risk of serious harm, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. For this reason, his motion to dismiss my case should be denied.

If you use this formula for each and every point you need to address in your complaint, you have a much better chance of getting the Judge to treat your case with the attention it deserves.

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