United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
DEGUILIO Judge United States District Judge.
Thomas, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas corpus petition
challenging the prison disciplinary hearing (WCC 15-07-217)
that was held at the Westville Correctional Facility on July
20, 2015. The Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him
guilty of Assault/Battery in violation of B-212 and
sanctioned him with the loss of 30 days earned credit time.
In the petition, Thomas raises four grounds and the case is
now fully briefed.
Ground One, Thomas argues that he was not assigned an
effective lay advocate. The Respondent argues that Thomas did
not raise this issue during his administrative appeals and it
is therefore procedurally defaulted. Thomas argues that he
did not raise this argument sooner because he “was not
well versed in the law, nor Indiana Department of Corrections
policies and procedures.” DE 15 at 2. However,
“it is well established in this Circuit that
circumstances such as youth, lack of education, and
illiteracy are not external impediments within the context of
excusing procedural default.” Harris v.
McAdory, 334 F.3d 665, 669 (7th Cir. 2003). Indeed,
Harris went on to hold that neither mental
retardation, mental deficiencies, nor mental illness
demonstrate cause to excuse procedural default. Therefore,
Thomas' ignorance of the law does not excuse procedural
default. Nevertheless, even if it could, Thomas did not have
a Constitutional right to a lay advocate. See Wolff v.
McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 570 (1974) (Lay advocate only
required when the inmate is illiterate or the issues are
complex.). See also Miller v. Duckworth, 963 F.2d
1002 (7th Cir. 1992) and Wilson-El v. Finnan, 263
Fed.Appx. 503 (7th Cir. 2008). Here, Thomas states that he
“is not illiterate . . ..” DE 1 at 4. Neither was
this a complex case. He was charged with Assault/Battery
because he was seen dragging another inmate into a cell. He
admits that he was moving the inmate who was on the floor,
but argues that he was trying to help, not hurt him.
Ultimately the DHO did not believe Thomas, but that does not
mean that this case was too complex for him to have defended
it on his own.
Ground Two, Thomas argues that the officer did not call for
assistance nor mention that Thomas injured the other inmate
in any way. In Ground Three, he argues that the report does
not mention whether the victim was tested for drugs. In
Ground Four, he argues that prison officials had an
obligation to investigate what happened. All of these grounds
are different ways of arguing that there was not sufficient
evidence to have found him guilty.
believes that if his contact with the other inmate was not so
violent that the guard felt the need to summon additional
guards, then he cannot be guilty. He believes that if the
other inmate was not injured, then he cannot be found guilty.
However, neither extreme violence nor injury were required to
find him guilty of this offense. Battery is defined as
“[t]he nonconsensual touching of, or use of force
against, the body of another with the intent to cause harmful
or offensive contact.” Black's Law Dictionary (10th
ed. 2014). Thus, the absence of an injury did not preclude
finding Thomas guilty.
argues that he was trying to help the other inmate to his bed
because he was intoxicated. He argues that the guard and the
hearing officer misunderstood why he was dragging the inmate
into a cell. He argues that they should not have concluded
that he was trying to harm that inmate. The hearing officer
understood what Thomas was saying. The Hearing Report
includes this summary of Thomas' statement at the
hearing: “The guy was on the floor drooling. I was
trying to help him to his bed. I asked the officer for help.
I did not assault him.” DE 1-1 at 3. Thomas'
explanation is plausible and he might not have intended to
harm the other inmate by dragging him into a cell. However,
that is not what the DHO concluded.
[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. Although some evidence is not much, it still must
point to the accused's guilt. It is not our province to
assess the comparative weight of the evidence underlying the
disciplinary board's decision.
Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000)
(quotation marks, citations, parenthesis, and ellipsis
argues that the DHO was required to apply a preponderance of
the evidence standard. That may be true, but he cannot obtain
habeas corpus relief unless he can demonstrate that there was
not some evidence or that the decision of the DHO was
arbitrary. It is plausible that Thomas did not intend to harm
the other inmate. However it is not for this court to
re-weigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of
Thomas' statements. Thomas argues that “[t]his case
is based around a sealed document which could prove the
Petitioner's innocence . . ..” That sealed document
is the “confidential offender witness statement from
victim.” DE 1-1 at 3. That statement was submitted to
this court under seal and has been reviewed. It does not
exonerate Thomas. Given the evidence in the record, it was
not arbitrary to have found Thomas guilty of Assault/Battery.
these reasons, the habeas corpus petition is
DENIED. The clerk is
DIRECTED to ...