HARRISBURG, Pa. - A federal judge in Harrisburg has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Berks County Jail inmate after jailers destroyed a birthday card made by his 5-year-old daughter.
The jail had filed the motion to dismiss the suit, claiming that inmate Norman Vega failed "to state a claim for which relief can be granted."
U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter left open the possibility that Vega's complaint against the jail's warden and three other employees could be amended.
Vega's daughter sent him a card last May drawn in pencil and pen, since the jail in Bern Township forbids drawings in crayon.
Vega, 33, never received the card and was told it was destroyed due to crayon marks. He sued after his grievances were denied, claiming that his first, fifth and 14th Amendment rights were violated.
The judge said a "child's birthday card sent to an imprisoned father is no trifle, even though it may not suffice as a cause of action."
"This case dramatizes -- perhaps in a small, yet undeniably poignant way -- the human price paid by parent and child alike when one of them is in prison," the judge wrote in his opinion.
Jails across the country have banned crayon drawings because of a rise in drug smuggling in recent years, according to multiple media reports.
Vega is awaiting trial on murder charges in the fatal shootings of two men in 2004. He has been in jail since his arrest in June 2013. His trial is set to begin May 30.
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