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Harris v. Brian Smith Superintendent

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

October 5, 2016



          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge

         The petition of Charles Harris for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding identified as No. ISF 15-11-0560. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Harris's habeas petition must be denied.


         A. Overview

         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); Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000).

         B. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         On November 20, 2015, Charles Worsham issued a Report of Conduct charging Harris with a trafficking in violation of Code A-113. The Report of Conduct states:

On November 20th at approximately 7:30 a.m. I was unable to locate offender Harris. I stepped outside where I saw offender Harris returning around the corner of another building carrying a brown paper bag wadded up like trash. The offenders have been instructed not to wander through the facility unsupervised. I asked offender Harris what he was doing. He said he was getting his lunch. His lunch was nowhere near that building. He then said he was picking up trash. I took the contraband from offender Harris and instructed him and the others to return to the van. The paper bag contained multiple tightly wrapped packages and was given to Brady Givens, Park Manager before I returned the crew to PCF-IRO.

         Brady Givens emailed Vedora Hinshaw at the Department of Correction as follows:

Almost immediately after arriving at the property this morning Charles “Zac” Worsham, who supervises our DOC crew here at Fort Harrison SP observed one of the offenders retrieving an object from near the Service Area fence. He confronted the individual and asked him what he was doing. According to Zac he noticed that the offender had a paper bag in his hand which he claimed was trash. Zac took possession of this item and called our office for assistance. I arrived and spoke with Zac, at which time he explained what was going [on]. I took passion [sic] of the item, and instructed him to return the crew to the facility immediately. I then contacted our Conservation Officers and informed them of the situation. They will be out to take passion [sic] of the item a soon as they are available. Next I called the Pendleton Facility to make them aware [of] the situation.

         Harris was notified of the charge on November 25, 2015, when he was served with the Report of Conduct and the Notice of Disciplinary Hearing (Screening Report). The Screening Officer noted that Harris did not request any witnesses or evidence.

         The Hearing Officer conducted a disciplinary hearing on December 1, 2015. The Hearing Officer noted Harris' statement, “Was doing my job the best I could, to pick up trash, I thought that is what I was doing.” Relying on the staff reports and the statement of the offender, the Hearing Officer determined that Harris had violated Code A-113. The sanctions imposed included a written reprimand, a 30-day phone restriction, and the deprivation of 90 days of earned credit time. The Hearing Officer imposed the sanctions because of the seriousness of the offense and the degree to which the violation disrupted or endangered the security of the facility Harris's appeals were denied and he filed the present petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

         C. Analysis

         Harris challenges the disciplinary proceeding arguing that the screening officer denied requested evidence, that there is a variance between the charge and the conduct report, and that the evidence is not sufficient to sustain the conviction. 1. Denial of Evidence Harris first argues that he was denied requested evidence, but he does not state what evidence he requested. A hearing officer has considerable discretion with respect to witness and evidence requests, and may deny requests that threaten institutional safety or are irrelevant, repetitive, or unnecessary. Piggie v. Cotton,342 F.3d 660, 666 (7th Cir. 2003). Furthermore, due process only requires access to witnesses and evidence that are exculpatory. Rasheed-Bey v. Duckworth, 969 F.2d 357, 361 (7th Cir. 1992). “Exculpatory” in this context means evidence that “directly undermines the reliability of the evidence in the record pointing to [the prisoner's] guilt.” Meeks v. McBride,81 F.3d 717, 721 (7th Cir. 1996). The denial of the right to present evidence will be considered harmless, unless the prisoner shows that the evidence could have aided his defense. See Jones v. Cross,637 F.3d 841, ...

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