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Daniels v. Superintendent

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

April 4, 2017

RAMAR DANIELS, Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          RUDY LOZANO, Judge United State District Court

         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 Ramar Daniels, a pro se prisoner, on April 11, 2016. Here, Daniels challenges a disciplinary determination made by a hearing officer at the Westville Correctional Facility (“Westville”) under case number WCC 16-01-0234. For the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES the petition (DE 1). The Clerk is DIRECTED to close this case.

         BACKGROUND

         On January 12, 2016, Lt. D. Moynihan prepared a conduct report charging Daniels with Offense B-212 assault/battery. (DE 18-1.) The conduct report stated:

On 1/12/16 at 5:39 pm offender Daniels, Ramar was seen assaulting offender Harris, Shantae #248468 with closed fists. This was seen via CCTV.

(Id.)

         On January 14, 2016, Daniels was notified of the charge of assault/battery and served with a copy of the conduct report and the screening report. (DE 18-2.) The screening report reflects that he pled not guilty and requested a lay advocate. He did not request any physical evidence. He requested the person he assaulted as a witness, but the screening officer apparently denied that request because Daniels could not provide the name of the offender. (Id.)

         On October 23, 2015, a disciplinary hearing took place and the hearing officer and found Daniels guilty of the charge of assault/battery. (DE 18-4.) At the hearing, Daniels's comment was, “I believe this was fighting, not assault.” (Id.) Daniels appealed to the Superintendent and Final Reviewing Authority, but those appeals were denied. (DE 18-5; 18-6.)

         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, Daniels raises four claims in his petition: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the charge; (2) the video of the altercation was not reviewed; (3) he was denied a witness statement; and (4) he did not receive a copy of the conduct report or screening report.

         First, Daniels claims there was insufficient evidence to find him guilty of assault/battery. In reviewing a disciplinary determination for sufficiency of the evidence, “courts are not required to conduct an examination of the entire record, independently assess witness credibility, or weigh the evidence, but only 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). “[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. 445, 455-56 (1985). The court will overturn the hearing officer's decision only if “no reasonable adjudicator could have found [the prisoner] guilty of the offense on the basis of the evidence presented.” Henderson v. United States Parole Comm'n, 13 F.3d 1073, 1077 (7th Cir. 1994). Additionally, 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).

         Offense B-212 assault/battery is defined as “committing a battery/assault upon another person without a weapon or inflicting bodily injury. (DE 18 at 10.) (Citing the Adult Disciplinary Process for Offenses within the Indiana Department of Corrections). In this case, it is clear that the record contains “some evidence” to support the hearing officer's determination that Daniels was guilty of assault/battery. The conduct report is some evidence that Daniels assaulted/battered another inmate. McPherson, 188 F.3d at 786 (7th Cir. 1999) (conduct report alone provided some evidence to support disciplinary determination). The conduct report reveals that Lt. Moynihan was watching CCTV (close circuit television) and saw Daniels assaulting another offender with closed fists. In addition, at the disciplinary hearing, Daniels effectively admits to hitting the other offender by claiming that it was “fighting not assault.” Perhaps he thinks that a battery has to be a one-way activity and that it cannot be done by two people to each other. If so, this is incorrect. Two people can batter each other at the same time. Alternatively, perhaps he is arguing that he was acting in self-defense. However,

inmates do not have a constitutional right to raise self-defense as a defense in the context of prison disciplinary proceedings. As such, the [DHB] was under no constitutional obligation to allow [the] claim that he was merely defending ...

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