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Cummins v. Sevier

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

November 4, 2014

WILLIAM CUMMINS, Petitioner,
v.
MARK SEVIER, [1] Respondent.

ENTRY DISCUSSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

The petition of William Cummins for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding identified as No. ISF XX-XX-XXXX. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Cummins' habeas petition must be denied.

Discussion

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).

B. The Disciplinary Proceeding

On April 11, 2013, Correctional Officer Eslick wrote a conduct report that charged Cummins with class B offense 207, unauthorized possession of an electronic device. The conduct report stated:

On 4-11-13 at approx[.] 2025 (sic), while working 18 North, I, C/O T. Eslick #207 was conducting a random shakedown on Offender Cummins, William #944208 person, and his property. During shakedown, I, C/O T. Eslick #207 discovered a "Mighty Bright" reading light that had a cell phone charger attatched (sic) to the batteries, located on Offender Cummins bunk. I confiscated the "Mighty Bright" reading light with the cell phone charger attatched (sic). Offender Cummins was advised of this conduct report and identified by his state issued I.D. The reading light was partially concealed by Offender Cummins' pillow and blanket.

On April 15, 2013, the screening process was conducted. However, the name written as the offender receiving the paperwork was Fred Richards. This name is signed at the bottom of the conduct and screening reports and the notice of the confiscated property. The disciplinary hearing was set for April 17, 2013. However, the hearing was postponed "[d]ue to need for further investigation" because "another offenders (sic) signature is on the paperwork, Cummins is claiming that he wasn't screened. Although he is in possession of the paperwork given out at screening." A witness statement from Offender Tyler Hogue was obtained because it was requested during the April 15th screening. Hogue stated "[o]n 4-11-13 I, Tyler Hogue was found to be in possession of a phone. I was found with it in the day room D side. The charger to my phone was on Cummings (sic) bed. I was back there texting. He had no knowledge of the charger." The hearing was reconvened on April 25th and at that time Cummins' statement at the hearing was still "I have not been screened for this case. I don't know about this case. I was not even in the dorm at this time." The hearing officer conducted the prison disciplinary hearing and found Cummins guilty of Class B offense 207, unauthorized possession of an electronic device.

The sanctions recommended and approved were an earned credit time loss of 60 days, a credit class demotion from credit class I to credit class II, and a written reprimand. These sanctions were imposed because of the serious nature of the offense, the offender's attitude and demeanor during the hearing and the degree to which the violation endangered the security of the facility. In making this determination, the hearing officer relied on the conduct report and Cummins' statement at the hearing. Cummins appealed unsuccessfully and the present action ensued.

C. Analysis

Cummins challenges the disciplinary proceeding, arguing that he was denied 24-hour notice of the hearing, and was refused physical evidence and witnesses.

1. Notice

Cummins first argues that he did not have notice of the disciplinary action because he was never screened and "another offender signed [his] paperwork." It is true that there was a different offender's signature on the conduct and screening report. But the first hearing was postponed to allow the hearing officer to investigate this fact. Due process requires that an offender have a written notice of the charges at least 24 hours before the hearing. Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445 (1985); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974). The purpose of "notice of the charges against him in order to inform him of the ...


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