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Pierce v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

January 25, 2017

RONALD J. PIERCE, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          RUDY LOZANO, Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a Petition under 28 U.S.C. Paragraph 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a person in State Custody Seeking Review of a Prison Disciplinary Sanction, filed by Ronald J. Pierce, a pro se prisoner, on January 22, 2016. Here, Pierce challenges a disciplinary determination made by a hearing officer at Indiana State Prison (“ISP”) under case number ISP 15-05-0203. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the petition (DE #1). The Clerk is DIRECTED to close this case.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 26, 2015, Correctional Officer R. Westman prepared a conduct report charging Pierce with possession of a cellular device. (DE #6-1 at 1.) The conduct report stated:

On 5/26/15 at approximately 7:55 am Ofc Zimmerman and myself Ofc Westman conducted a shakedown of Offender Pierce DOC #903145 cell C325. During the shakedown I found a box that was painted black to match the back of the cell door. Inside the box I found an LG cell phone and charger. The item was confiscated, photographed and sent to IA. Also confiscated was the part of the cell phone charger that plugs into the wall it was be[ing] used to power a hand held video game. It was LG also the same brand as the phone.

(Id.) Photos were taken of the phone and charger and the items were confiscated. (DE #6-1 at 2, 3.) Officer Zimmerman provided a statement:

On 5/26/15 I Ofc. Zimmerman witnessed Ofc. Westman pull a small black card board box from the inside of offender Pierce #903145 W 325 CCH door at approximately 6:55 AM. It was located on the back side of the locking device of the door. Within the box was a cell phone and a charger.

(DE #6-1 at 4.)

         On June 1, 2015, Pierce was notified of the charge and served with a copy of the conduct report and the screening report. (DE #6-2 at 1.) The screening report reflects that he pled not guilty, requested a lay advocate, and requested to call Offenders Rogers and Sharp as witnesses. He also asked for the reason for the search, a photo of where the phone was found, and video footage as physical evidence. (Id.) A witness statement was obtained from Offender Rogers (DE #6-2 at 4) and video footage was reviewed and a summary of its contents was prepared (DE #6-2 at 5).

         On June 3, 2015, a hearing officer conducted a disciplinary hearing and found Pierce guilty of the charge of possessing a cell phone. (DE #6-3 at 1.) Relying on staff reports, photos, camera footage, evidence slip and confiscation slip, the hearing officer imposed a penalty of 60 days lost earned time credits and demoted him from credit class 1 to credit class 2. (Id.) Pierce appealed to the facility head and the final reviewing authority, but his appeals were denied. (DE ##6-4; 6-5.)

         DISCUSSION

         When prisoners lose earned time credits in a prison disciplinary hearing, they are entitled to certain protections under the Due Process Clause: (1) advance written notice of the charges; (2) an opportunity to be heard before an impartial decision maker; (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in defense when consistent with institutional safety and correctional goals; and (4) a written statement by a fact finder of evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563 (1974). To satisfy due process, there must also be “some evidence” to support the hearing officer's decision. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985).

         Here, Pierce raises three claims in his petition: (1) he was denied evidence; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction; and (3) he was denied an impartial hearing officer.

         First, Pierce argues that he was denied a photograph showing the location where the cell phone and charger was found, and that he was denied a conduct report written in a case involving offender Rogers. An inmate has a right to present relevant, exculpatory evidence. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 566. At the disciplinary hearing, Pierce's request for a photo of where the contraband was found was denied because one was not taken. (DE #6-2 at 4; DE #6-3 at 1.) Because the evidence was not in existence, Pierce was not entitled to that evidence. Freitas v. Auger, 837 F.2d 806, 812 n. 13 (8th Cir. ...


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