Shon Hopwood

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Shon Hopwood
Shon Robert Hopwood

(1975-06-11) June 11, 1975 (age 45)
David City, Nebraska, United States
EducationBellevue University (BS)
University of Washington (JD)
Georgetown University (LLM)
OccupationAssociate Professor at Georgetown University Law Center
Notable work
Petition for writ of certiorari in Fellers v. United States
Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption
Spouse(s)Ann Marie Metzner[1]

Shon Robert Hopwood (born June 11, 1975) is an American appellate lawyer and professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. Hopwood became well-known as a jailhouse lawyer who served time in prison for bank robbery. While in prison, he started spending time in the law library, and became an accomplished United States Supreme Court practitioner by the time he left in 2009.[2]

Early life[edit]

Hopwood is the son of Robert Mark Hopwood[3] and Becky Richards, who raised him in a Christian home.[4] He grew up in David City, Nebraska, approximately an hour's drive northwest of Lincoln, Nebraska.[5] Hopwood is the eldest of five siblings.[4] Hopwood excelled on standardized tests.[4] He was a high school basketball standout, earning himself a scholarship to Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska.[5] After Hopwood realized he was a mediocre talent in basketball, he became disillusioned and did not go to classes.[4][5]

After leaving school, Hopwood joined the United States Navy. He was stationed in the Persian Gulf.[4] While in the Navy, Hopwood guarded warships with shoulder-mounted Stinger missiles.[4] He almost died from acute pancreatitis in a Bahrain hospital, which prompted his discharge from the Navy.[4]

Bank robbery[edit]

Hopwood pled guilty on October 28, 1998, to robbing several banks in Nebraska.[6] United States District Judge Richard G. Kopf sentenced Hopwood to 12 years, three months in prison followed by three years of supervised release and ordered $134,544 in restitution.[6] Kopf was stunned by Hopwood's later transformation and said, "my gut told me that [he] was a punk—all mouth, and very little else. My viscera was wrong." In Kopf's own opinion, "Hopwood proves that my sentencing instincts suck."[7]

Jailhouse lawyer[edit]

Hopwood served his prison sentence at Federal Correctional Institution, Pekin.[8] While at Pekin, he spent five weeks in solitary confinement, and criticized the practice once he got out.[8]

He prepared his first petition for certiorari for a fellow inmate on a prison typewriter in 2002.[2] Since Hopwood was not a lawyer, the only name on the brief was that of the other prisoner, John Fellers.[2] Once the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, he worked with Seth Waxman, a former United States Solicitor General, in preparing the case.[2] Waxman stated that the petition for writ of certiorari was probably one of the best he had ever seen.[2] The court received 7,209 petitions that year from prisoners and others too poor to pay the filing fee, and it agreed to hear just eight of them.[2] One was Fellers v. United States.[2] The court, in a 9-0 decision, found that police had acted unconstitutionally in questioning Fellers, who had been convicted of a drug conspiracy. Fellers's sentence was ultimately reduced by four years.

In 2005, the Supreme Court granted a second cert petition prepared by Hopwood, vacating a lower court decision and sending the case back for a fresh look.[2] Hopwood has also helped inmates from Indiana, Michigan and Nebraska get sentence reductions of 3 to 10 years from lower courts.[2]

He also won honorable mention in the PEN American Center 2008 Prison Writing contest.[9][10]

Hopwood was released from the custody of the Bureau of Prisons on April 9, 2009.[11] In 2010, he was working at Cockle Printing in Omaha, Nebraska, a leading printer of Supreme Court briefs.[2]

Law school and legal career[edit]

Hopwood holds a Bachelor of Science from Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Washington School of Law, where he was a Gates Public Service Law Scholar.[12][13] He accepted an offer to spend a year working as a law clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after he graduated from law school.[14]

On September 4, 2014, the Supreme Court of Washington approved the recommendation made by the Character and Fitness Committee of the Washington State Bar Association, permitting Hopwood to take the Washington bar examination, and to become an attorney if he passed.[13][15] His ability to become of a member of the Washington State Bar Association was named one of the 14 memorable National Law Journal Supreme Court of the United States stories of 2014.[16] In 2015, Hopwood became a licensed lawyer in the state of Washington.[17]

In 2015, Hopwood accepted a position as a graduate teaching fellow in Georgetown University Law Center's Appellate Litigation Clinic, where he was pursuing a Master of Laws degree.[18] In 2017, Hopwood became a professor of law at Georgetown.[19][20]

Writings and views[edit]

Hopwood's memoir, Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption,[21] co-written with Dennis Burke, was published in August 2012. In the memoir, Hopwood details both his life as a jailhouse lawyer and his romance with his wife, Ann Marie Hopwood, who Hopwood wrote during eight years of his imprisonment. Law Man received critical acclaim from a number of book reviewers.[22][23][24]

Hopwood is a criminal justice advocate, and he has written about the need for federal sentencing and prison reform.[25][26] Hopwood told an ACLU event that his home state of Nebraska should reform sentencing guidelines for prisoners, keep good time credits and not build a new prison.[8]

Contributions to scholarly journals[edit]

  • Clarity in Criminal Law, American Criminal Law Review (2016)[27]
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: Clerk Training and the Success of Supreme Court Certiorari Petitions[28]
  • The Not So Speedy Trial Act, 89 Wash. L. Rev. 709 (2014)[29]
  • Preface: Failing to Fix Sentencing Mistakes: How the System of Mass Incarceration May Have Hardened the Hearts of the Federal Judiciary, 43 Geo. L.J. Ann. Rev. Crim. Proc. iii (2014)[30]
  • Slicing Through the Great Legal Gordian Knot: Ways to Assist Pro Se Litigants in Their Quest for Justice, 80 Fordham L. Rev. 1229 (2011) [31]
  • A Sunny Deposition: How the in Forma Pauperis Statute Provides an Avenue for Indigent Prisoners to Seek Depositions Without Accompanying Fees, 46 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 195 (2011)
  • From a Prison Law Library to the New York Times, Informal Opinion, Champion, November 2010[32]

In the media[edit]

Hopwood has been profiled by The New York Times, NPR, and other media. He was featured on a 60 Minutes segment in 2017 and repeated in 2019, where he was interviewed by Steve Kroft.[33]


  1. ^ a b Kroft, Steve (July 21, 2019). "Meet a Convicted Felon who Became a Georgetown Law Professor". 60 Minutes. CBS News. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Liptak, Adam (February 8, 2010). "A Mediocre Criminal, but an Unmatched Jailhouse Lawyer". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Conklin, Ellis E. (October 1, 2013). "Shon Hopwood's Journey from the Big House to". Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Real-McKeighan, Tammy (March 15, 2013). "Hopwood to Speak at Annual Prayer Breakfast". Fremont Tribune.
  6. ^ a b Bryant, Carol (April 15, 1999). "Two Men Sentenced to Prison for Bank Robberies". The Grand Island Independent.
  7. ^ Memmott, Mark (September 5, 2013). "The Incredible Case of the Bank Robber Who's Now a Law Clerk". All Things Considered. NPR.
  8. ^ a b c Johnson, Riley (March 13, 2014). "Former Prisoner Pushes Prison Reform". Lincoln Journal Star.
  9. ^ Hopwood, Shon. "The News". PEN American Center. Archived from the original on August 19, 2010.
  10. ^ "Shon Hopwood". Archived from the original on August 19, 2010. Retrieved February 10, 2010.
  11. ^ "Inmate Locator". United States Bureau of Prisons.
  12. ^ Long, Katherine (September 27, 2012). "Former Robber in 2nd Year at UW Law School". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on October 23, 2012.
  13. ^ a b Mauro, Tony (October 6, 2014). "From Felony Conviction to Bar Exam". National Law Journal. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  14. ^ Mauro, Tony (August 7, 2013). "Unusual Law Clerk Hire for D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown". The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.
  15. ^ In re: Hopwood, 201,345-7 (Wash. Sup. Ct. September 4, 2014).
  16. ^ Mauro, Tony. "14 Memorable NLJ Supreme Court Stories of 2014". National Law Journal. Retrieved January 2, 2015.[dead link]
  17. ^ "Lawyer Search". Washington State Bar Association. Archived from the original on July 17, 2015. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  18. ^ Santos, Michael. "The Inspiring Story of an Ex-Bank Robber Who Turned into America's Best Jailhouse Lawyer". Business Insider. Retrieved August 3, 2015.
  19. ^ Long, Katherine. "Former Bank Robber Helped by Gates Fund Now Professor at Georgetown Law School". The Seattle Times. Retrieved April 8, 2017.
  20. ^ Svriuga, Susan (April 21, 2017). "He Robbed Banks and Went to Prison. His Time There Put Him on Track for a New Job: Georgetown Law Professor". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 25, 2017.
  21. ^ Hopwood, Shon; Burke, Dennis Michael (2012). Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption. Crown. ISBN 9780307887832. OCLC 761846778.
  22. ^ "Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption". Kirkus Review. July 12, 2012.
  23. ^ Seggel, Heather (August 2012). "Beating the System". BookPage. Archived from the original on August 14, 2018.
  24. ^ Pitt, David (June 14, 2012). "Law Man". Booklist Online.
  25. ^ Hopwood, Shon (December 21, 2012). "I Got a Second Chance After Robbing Banks-and Others Should, Too". The Atlantic.
  26. ^ Hopwood, Shon (August 20, 2012). "Giving Prisoners a Second Chance Means Removing the Barriers to Reentry". Huffington Post.
  27. ^ Hopwood, Shon (September 16, 2016). "Clarity in Criminal Law". American Criminal Law Review. SSRN 2838871.
  28. ^ Blake, William; Hacker, Hans; Hopwood, Shon (August 13, 2015). "Seasonal Affective Disorder: Clerk Training and the Success of Supreme Court Certiorari Petitions". Law and Society Review. 49 (4): 973–997. doi:10.1111/lasr.12165. hdl:11603/19244. SSRN 2644009.
  29. ^ Hopwood, Shon (2014). "The Not So Speedy Trial Act" (PDF). Washington Law Review. 89: 709–745.
  30. ^ "Preface: Failing to Fix Sentencing Mistakes: How the System of Mass Incarceration May Have Hardened the Hearts of the Federal Judiciary".
  31. ^ Hogwood, Shon R. (December 2011). "Slicing Through the Great Legal Gordian Knot: Ways to Assist Pro Se Litigants in Their Quest for Justice" (PDF). Fordham Law Review. 80: 1229–1239.
  32. ^ Hopwood, Shon R. (November 2010). "From a Prison Law Library to the New York Times". Champion. National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
  33. ^ Kroft, Steve (July 8, 2018). "Meet a convicted felon who became a Georgetown law professor". 60 Minutes. CBS News. Retrieved July 9, 2018.