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Felder v. Smith

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

June 23, 2015

JOHN B. FELDER, Petitioner,
BRIAN SMITH, Respondent.


WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

The petition of John Felder for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding. For the reasons explained in this entry, Mr. Felder's habeas petition must be denied.

A. Overview

Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of credit time, Cochran v. Buss, 381 F.3d 637, 639 (7th Cir. 2004), 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); Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000). A violation of state law will not support the issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. Holman v. Gilmore, 126 F.3d 876, 884 (7th Cir. 1997).

B. The Disciplinary Proceeding

On April 16, 2014, Correctional Officer T. Andis wrote a Report of Conduct charging Mr. Felder with unauthorized possession of property. The conduct report states:

On, 4-16-14 at approx. 10:48 am I officer T. Andis was conducting a targeted search of offender Felder, John D.O.C. # 906416 property when I clearly observed papers inside of a cardboard box that offender Felder Identified as his property and the offender's name and D.O.C. # were Located on the box as well as Legal mail with the offender info inside the box. The paper's [sic] that were confiscated were the white original copies from case # IYC-12-11-0202. These copies belonged in the offender's facility packet. The papers had two hole punch holes at the top of the center of the papers. The papers were confiscated and taken to the shift office to make copies and the originals were placed back in the offenders facility packet. When the offender was Questioned about the papers he would not divulge were [sic] he obtained the papers.
[Filing No. 12-1].

On April 21, 2014, Mr. Felder was notified of the charge and was given a copy of the conduct report and the Notice of Disciplinary Hearing "Screening Report." He was notified of his rights and pled not guilty. He requested a lay advocate and requested Correctional Officers T. Ray, D. Kelley, and staff member McIntyre as witnesses. Mr. Felder requested the video of the search of his cell to show that the Officer had the paperwork in his hand prior to searching the box in Felder's cell. [Filing No. 12-3].

The hearing officer conducted a disciplinary hearing on May 11, 2014, and found Mr. Felder guilty of the unauthorized possession of property. In making this determination, the hearing officer considered the staff reports, the offender's statement, evidence from witnesses, copies of the confiscated forms, and video evidence. Based on the hearing officer's recommendations the following sanctions were imposed: a 28-day loss of commissary and telephone privileges, an earned credit time deprivation of 90 days, a demotion from credit class 1 to credit class 2, and 90 days of disciplinary segregation, which was suspended. The hearing officer recommended the sanctions because of seriousness of the offense, the frequency and nature of the offense, the offender's attitude and demeanor during the hearing, the degree to which the violation disputed/endangered the security of the facility, and the likelihood of the sanction having a corrective effect on the offender's future behavior. [Filing No. 12-4].

Mr. Felder appealed the disciplinary proceeding through the administrative process. His appeals were denied. He now seeks relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254 arguing that his due process rights were violated.

C. Analysis

Mr. Felder is not entitled to habeas relief because he was afforded due process. He asserts the following claims: 1) he was denied Officer Kelley as a witness; 2) the number of witnesses he was allowed was limited; 3) he was denied evidence; 4) the conduct report was not sworn under oath; 5) the hearing officer was not impartial; and 6) the documentary evidence he presented at the hearing was not noted.

In ground one of the complaint, Mr. Felder alleges he was denied testimony from Officer Kelley. Mr. Felder requested as a witness Correctional Officer D. Kelley. [Filing No. 12-3]. For reasons not explained by the respondent, Officer Kelley did not provide a witness statement. Mr. Felder alleges that he anticipated Officer Kelley to state that she witnessed Officer T. Ray give him (Felder) the papers that were later confiscated from his cell. [Filing No. 12-3]. In a habeas corpus case, even if a due process error occurred, the petitioner has the burden to show it had a substantial and injurious effect on the ...

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