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Frank v. Knight

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

April 28, 2014

ROBERT L. FRANK, JR., Petitioner,
WENDY KNIGHT, Respondent.



This matter is before the Court on the Petition of Robert L. Frank ("Mr. Frank") for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. 1) challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding identified as No. CIC XX-XX-XXXX. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Mr. Frank's Petition must be denied.


A. Standard

Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of good-time credits, Cochran v. Buss, 381 F.3d 637, 639 (7th Cir. 2004) (per curiam), or of credit-earning class, Montgomery v. Anderson, 262 F.3d 641, 644-45 (7th Cir. 2001), without due process. The due process requirement is satisfied with the issuance of advance written notice of the charges, a limited opportunity to present evidence to an impartial decision maker, a written statement articulating the reasons for the disciplinary action and the evidence justifying it, and "some evidence in the record" to support the finding of guilt. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 570-71 (1974); Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2003).

B. The Disciplinary Proceeding

On March 26, 2013, Internal Affairs Investigator Matt Johnson ("Mr. Johnson") wrote a Report of Conduct that charged Mr. Frank with possession of a controlled substance. The Report of Conduct states:

On February 8, 2013 Officer Corey Lynch discovered two hand written letters during a cell search in 22L-3AS. The letters had information pertaining to the use and possession of suboxone. Offender Frank lives in cell 22L-3AS, a hand writing comparison was done [sic] I am confident Offender Frank did write the letters found in his cell.

One of the hand-written letters stated "I gave Hoover & Riker those 62 strips & told them to give me $500.00." Another hand-written letter states "[i]f you want to buy the whole thing (the only way to get it) I only sell em for $30 a piece!" The letter warns against using the telephones to relay information because "they listen." A third letter, used as a comparator, is a handwritten letter from Mr. Frank to Mr. Johnson received on January 7, 2013. This letter refers to Mr. Frank holding drugs for another offender, including "weed, " "Saboxin, " and cocaine. Mr. Frank had also sent a letter to Superintendent Knight dated December 15, 2012, in which he explained that he felt his life was in danger in the general population because of his crime.

On March 28, 2013, Mr. Frank was notified of the charge of possession of a controlled substance when he was served with the Report of Conduct and the Notice of Disciplinary Hearing (Screening Report). Mr. Frank was notified of his rights, pled not guilty, and requested the appointment of a lay advocate. He did not request any witnesses, but as physical evidence he requested the handwritten notes. He waived 24-hour notice of a hearing.

The hearing officer conducted a disciplinary hearing in CIC-13-03-0517 on March 29, 2013. The hearing officer found Mr. Frank guilty of the charge of possession of a controlled substance. In making this determination, the hearing officer considered staff reports, the letters, and the Internal Affairs Confidential Report. The hearing officer recommended and approved sanctions including 90-days earned credit time deprivation and demotion from credit class 1 to credit class 2. Mr. Frank appealed to the Facility Head on March 28, 2013. The Facility Head denied the appeal on April 17, 2013. Mr. Frank then appealed to the Final Reviewing Authority, which denied his appeal by letter dated May 9, 2013. This action followed.

C. Analysis

In his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Mr. Frank argues that 1) he was never in possession of or found to have used a controlled substance; 2) language referring to Suboxone was fabricated; 3) the handwriting comparison was improperly done; and 4) the hearing officer failed to consider the lack of evidence against him. Each of these arguments amounts to a claim that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for possession of a controlled substance.

To afford Mr. Frank due process in his habeas petition, the Defendant must present "some evidence" to support the hearing officer's decision. This standard was established in Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445 (1985). The "some evidence" standard is lenient, "requiring only that the decision not be arbitrary or without support in the record." McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1999). Although the evidence before the hearing officer must "point to the accused's guilt, " Lenea v. Lane, 882 F.2d 1171, 1175 (7th Cir. 1989), the standard of some' evidence "does not require evidence that logically precludes any conclusion but the one reached by the disciplinary board." Hill, 472 U.S. at 457. The determination should be upheld if "there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached." Id. Even "meager" proof will suffice so long as "the record is not so devoid of evidence that the findings of the disciplinary board ...

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