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Williams v. Brown

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

October 6, 2016

RONALD E. WILLIAMS, JR., Petitioner,
DICK BROWN, Respondent.



         The petition of Ronald E. Williams, Jr. for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding, WVE 15-09-0071, in which he was found guilty of possessing intoxicants. For the reasons explained in this entry, Mr. Williams' habeas petition must be denied.

         I. 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); Jones v. Cross, 637 F.3d 841, 845 (7th Cir. 2011); Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2003); Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000).

         II. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         On September 15, 2015, Correctional Officer Hughes issued a Report of Conduct charging Mr. Williams with possession of intoxicants in violation of Code B-231. Dkt. 13-1. The Report of Conduct states:

On 9-15-15 at approx. 7:20 pm I c/o A. Hughes was conducting Rec in GHU when I smelled an alcohol odor coming from cell 406 where Offender Williams, Ronald DOC #170778 and Offender Wilson, James DOC #139229 reside. While conducting a search of the cell I found a bag containing approx. one gallon of an alcohol smelling liquid under the bunk bed. The bag of alcohol smelling liquid was sent to master control where it was photographed and disposed of.

Id. The bag containing an alcohol smelling liquid was confiscated. Dkt. 13-5.

         Mr. Williams was notified of the charge on September 16, 2015, when he was served with the Report of Conduct and the Notice of Disciplinary Hearing (Screening Report). Dkt. 13-6. The Screening Officer noted that Mr. Williams wanted to call Officer Hughes as a witness and that he requested the video to show who went into the cell. Id. The summary of the video review states, “I (DHO S. Chapman) attempted to watch the video for the rec period in question on 9/15/15. Due to the angle of the camera, the placement of an air duct, and a light, I am unable to get a clear view of the front of cell 406. The video neither supports nor disputes the conduct report.” Dkt. 13-8.

         The hearing officer conducted a disciplinary hearing on September 23, 2015. Dkt. 13-9. The hearing officer noted Mr. Williams' statement that the “POD officer say [sic] my cell can be seen by the camera. Reporting officer should have had a staff witness with him when shaking down.” Id. The hearing officer also noted that Mr. Williams received a picture of the evidence card at screening. Id. Relying on the staff report, the statement of the offender, the video summary, and the photos and confiscation form, the hearing officer determined that Mr. Williams had violated Code B-231. The sanctions imposed included a written reprimand, a loss of commissary privileges, the deprivation of 60 days of earned credit time, and the demotion from credit class I to class II (suspended). The hearing officer imposed the sanctions because of the seriousness and frequency of the offense and the likelihood of the sanction having a corrective effect on the offender's future behavior.

         Mr. Williams' appeals were denied. This habeas action followed.

         III. Analysis

         Mr. Williams alleges that his due process rights were violated during the disciplinary proceeding. His claims are that: 1) the hearing officer said she could not use the video requested but then listed the video in her reason to find guilt; 2) the reporting officer did not have a staff witness with him when he searched the cell; and 3) he was denied a full copy (front and back) of the evidence record card.

         All three of Mr. Williams' claims challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. The “some evidence” evidentiary standard in this type of case is much more lenient than “beyond a reasonable doubt” or even “by a preponderance.” See Moffat v. Broyles, 288 F.3d 978, 981 (7th Cir. 2002) (hearing officer in prison disciplinary case “need not show culpability beyond a reasonable doubt or credit exculpatory evidence.”). The “some evidence” standard requires “only that the decision not be arbitrary or without support in the record.” McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1999). ...

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