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Scales v. Butts

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

February 27, 2017

KEITH BUTTS Warden of New Castle Correctional Facility, Respondent.


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         The petition of Michael Scales for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding identified as NSF 16-01-0032. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Mr. Scales'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 Dated: 2/27/2017 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 December 30, 2015, J. Gibson wrote a Conduct Report charging Mr. Scales with violating Code B-247 for possession or solicitation of unauthorized personal information. The Conduct Report states:

Offender Michael Scales 242555 has been corresponding with an ex-female officer. They have not gone through proper channels to be approved to correspond. Mailroom has confiscated mail from the ex-officer and also returned mail letting her know this is not allowed. On the above date and time Offender Scales 242555 wrote to the ex officer on JPay telling her how to change her name and address so they can correspond. This has taken place several times. Please see attached.

         Filing No. 12-1 at 1.

         Mr. Scales was notified of the charge on December 30, 2015, when he received the Screening Report. The Screening Report reflects that he plead guilty to the charge, but requested a lay advocate for the hearing.

         A hearing was held on January 5, 2016. At the hearing, Mr. Scales changed his plea to not guilty. He stated that he talked to internal affairs “and they did not [] tell me we could not talk to each other. I did not know.” Filing No. 12-10 at 1. Based on Mr. Scales's statement, the staff reports, and the letters themselves, the hearing officer found Mr. Scales guilty. The hearing officer recommended and approved sanctions including a ninety-day earned-credit-time deprivation and a credit class demotion.

         Mr. Scales appealed to the Facility Head and the IDOC Final Reviewing Authority, but both appeals were denied. He then brought this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         C. Analysis

         Mr. Scales purports to raise the following three distinct claims in his habeas petition: (1) he was not provided sufficient notice of the nature of the charges against him and the charge of possession or solicitation of unauthorized personal information is unconstitutionally vague; (2) his conduct was not clearly prohibited by the explanation of the charge; and (3) there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty. The respondent construes all of these claims as challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and only briefs that issue. But this ignores Mr. Scales's vagueness challenge. The Court will thus address this claim and the sufficiency of the evidence in turn. 1.Vagueness The Government violates due process “by taking away someone's life, liberty, or property under a criminal law so vague that it fails to give ordinary people fair notice of the conduct it punishes, or so standardless that it invites arbitrary enforcement.” Johnson v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2556 (2015). The prohibition on vagueness applies not just to criminal laws, but also to prison disciplinary offenses the violation of which can lead to a loss of liberty. See Isby-Israel v. Finnan, 347 Fed.Appx. 253, 254-55 (7th Cir. 2009) (assessing whether a prison disciplinary rule was unconstitutionally vague); see also Brown v. Schneiter, 335 Fed.Appx. 618, 622-23 (7th Cir. 2009).

         The Appendix to the IDOC Adult Disciplinary Process, which went into effect on June 1, 2015, defines the disciplinary offense ...

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