United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
RONALD J. PIERCE, Petitioner,
OPINION AND ORDER
L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE
J. Pierce, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas
petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging a
disciplinary determination made by a hearing officer at
Indiana State Prison (“ISP”) under case number
ISP 15-05-0238, where Mr. Pierce was found guilty of
possessing a controlled substance and sanctioned with the
loss of 60 days earned credit time.
who lose earned time credits in a prison disciplinary hearing
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). Mr. Pierce argues
there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction.
reviewing a decision for some evidence, [the court is to]
determine whether the prison disciplinary board's
decision to revoke good time credits has some factual
basis.” McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784,
786 (7th Cir. 1999) (quotation marks omitted). “[T]he
relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the
record that could support the conclusion reached by the
disciplinary board.” Superintendent v. Hill,
472 U.S. at 455-456. “[T]he findings of a prison
disciplinary board [need only] have the support of some
evidence in the record. This is a lenient standard, requiring
no more than a modicum of evidence. Even meager proof will
suffice, so long as the record is not so devoid of evidence
that the findings of the disciplinary board were without
support or otherwise arbitrary.” Webb v.
Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000) (quotation
marks and citations omitted). The conduct report alone can
provide some evidence. McPherson v. McBride, 188
F.3d at 786(conduct report alone provided some evidence to
support disciplinary determination).
Wilgus prepared a conduct report stating:
On 2-21-15 at approx. 10:45 pm I ofc. R. Wilgus and ofc E.
Collins were shaking down offender Pierce #903145 cell 325 W
when I ofc. R. Wilgus found a bag filled with drugs hidden
behind a piece of cardboard on the cell door. In the bag was
a green leafy [substance] along with a cell phone charger.
of the evidence were taken and the items were confiscated.
The green leafy substance tested positive for marijuana.
Officer Collins also provided a written statement:
On 2/21/15 [at] approximately 10:45 pm I ofc. E. Collins
[and] ofc Wilgus were conducting a Routine Shakedown on cell
325W C-Charles on offender Pierce 903145. I witnessed ofc.
Wilgus pull an unknow[n] drug substance from behind a piece
of cardboard taped to the inside of the cell door.
some evidence sufficient to find Mr. Pierce guilty of
possessing a controlled substance. Mr. Pierce claims that the
evidence was insufficient for three reasons.
Mr. Pierce notes that Offender Washington provided a
statement saying that he (Washington) was the owner of the
controlled substance and that he had placed it in Mr.
Pierce's cell door. Assessing credibility is the hearing
officer's function, McPherson v. McBride, 188
F.3d at 786, and the hearing officer in this case wasn't
required to credit Offender Washington's statement.
Although Mr. Pierce denies that the marijuana belonged to him
and asserts that it belonged to Offender Washington, it is
not the province of this court to reweigh the evidence or
make its own determination regarding the credibility of the
Mr. Piece claims that there is video evidence
“clearly” showing someone entered his cell at the
same time Offender Washington claimed to have entered it.
That's not quite accurate. Offender Washington claimed to
have entered Mr. Pierce's cell in the morning on February
27, but didn't state any specific time. And the summary
of review of the video footage states that “due to poor
visibility, offender movement, and camera focus” the
hearing officer couldn't identify Offender Washington
entering or exiting the range. The court has viewed the video
and finds that the hearing officer is correct; it isn't
possible to discern any individual's identity from it.
The video footage contains no exculpatory evidence. Meeks
v. McBride, 81 F.3d 717, 721 (7th Cir. 1996)
(exculpatory evidence is that which “directly
undermines the reliability of the evidence in the record . .
Mr. Pierce claims that the evidence was insufficient to find
that he possessed the contraband because it was found in a
common area rather than on him or in his living quarters. The
conduct report and Officer Collins' corroborating
statement - which the hearing officer was free to believe -
say the marijuana wasn't found in a common area; it was
found behind a piece of cardboard “inside of the cell
door.” A hearing officer is permitted to rely on
circumstantial evidence to establish guilt. See Hamilton
v. O'Leary, 976 F.2d 341, 345 (7th Cir. 1992). The
record needn't contain evidence of actual possession of
contraband, as long as there is sufficient evidence of
constructive possession. Id. at 345-346. There is
sufficient evidence of constructive possession in this case
because the contraband was found inside Mr. Pierce's cell
door rather than in a common area. See Hill v.
Superintendent, 472 U.S. at 457 (“Although the
evidence in this case might be characterized as meager, and
there was no direct evidence identifying any one of three
inmates as the assailant, the record is not so devoid of
evidence that the findings of the disciplinary board were
without support or otherwise arbitrary.”); Hamilton
v. O'Leary, 976 F.2d 341. 345-46 (7th Cir. 1992)
(evidence of constructive possession was sufficient, since
contraband was found in a location where only the petitioner
and three other inmates could have left it); see also
Pigg v. Finnan, 289 Fed.Appx. 945, 947 (7th Cir. Aug.
18, 2008) (“When only a few inmates have access to the
place contraband is found, constructive possession is
‘some evidence' sufficient to sustain a
these reasons, the court DENIES the petition. The clerk shall