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Love v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

April 28, 2017

MICHAEL A. LOVE, JR., Petitioner,
v.
SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Michael A. Love, Jr., a pro se prisoner, filed a Habeas Corpus Petition [ECF No. 1] challenging the prison disciplinary hearing (ISP 15-06-12), in which a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty of Possession of Dangerous/Deadly Contraband/Property, in violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) policy A-106. As a result, Love was sanctioned with the loss of 90 days earned credit time. Love identifies three grounds for relief in his Petition. Love has also filed three Motions regarding the evidence before the Court. The Court has examined each of these Motions, as well as the Petition.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Love's Motions

         First, Love filed a Motion [ECF No. 13] to “Unseal Security Video for Record.” Love's Motion is based on the premise that the Court cannot view the video exhibit because it has been filed under seal. Id. However, the Court is able to review any document that is sealed, as sealing documents only protects the document from public disclosure. Because the Court can review documents filed under seal and has in fact reviewed the video at issue, the Court denies Love's first Motion as moot.

         Love's second Motion [ECF No. 14] seeks to suppress the witness statement of Lieutenant Dykstra on the basis that it was an “involuntary confession.” By this, Love asserts that Lt. Dykstra should not have been interviewed as a witness because Love did not request Lt. Dykstra as a witness. Id. However, a DHO is free to review any potentially relevant or exculpatory evidence, regardless of whether the offender has requested the evidence. The role of the Court is to review the sufficiency of the evidence the DHO reviewed, not to re-weigh the evidence or make initial findings of fact. See McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1999). Therefore, Love's second Motion is denied.

         Love's third Motion [ECF No. 15] argues the merits of his Petition for Habeas Corpus and seeks to suppress Respondent's Exhibit A-1, the Conduct Report. The Court addresses the merits of Love's Petition below, and there is no need to reiterate those holdings here. Furthermore, the Court must review the evidence considered by the DHO to determine whether the DHO had sufficient evidence on which to find Love guilty. The DHO reviewed the Conduct Report, and thus, the Court must do so as well. Therefore, this Motion is denied.

         B. Love's Habeas Corpus Petition

         1. Grounds One and Two

         In grounds one and two of his Petition, Love identifies what he classifies as “procedural errors.” (Pet. 2, ECF No. 1.) Love asserts that his rights were violated because: (a) he was not taken “straight to lock-up;” (b) he did not receive a confiscation slip; (c) he was not provided with an evidence card; (d) he did not receive a picture of the place where the evidence was discovered; and (e) he did not receive a hearing before an impartial fact-finder. (Id. at 2-3.) The Court finds that in essence, grounds one and two largely consist of Love's allegations that the IDOC failed to follow internal policies in conducting his disciplinary hearing.

         However, the IDOC's failure to follow its own policy does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991) (“state-law violations provide no basis for federal habeas relief”); Keller v. Donahue, 271 F. App'x. 531, 532 (7th Cir. 2008) (finding that inmate's claim that prison failed to follow internal policies had “no bearing on his right to due process”). Accordingly, the violations of IDOC policy identified by Love do not amount to a due process violation. “Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply.” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974).

         Moreover, in prison disciplinary cases, due process does not require a complete chain of custody. Rather, “[a]bsent some affirmative indication that a mistake may have been made, [the] hypothetical possibility of tampering does not render evidence inadmissible, but goes instead to the weight of the evidence.” Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 653 (7th Cir. 2000). Here, there is no affirmative indication, or even an allegation, that a mistake was made with respect to the evidence. Therefore, the lack of a chain of custody report, confiscation slip, evidence card, and the fact that Love was not immediately taken to segregation, does not serve as a basis for habeas corpus relief.[1]

         Love also argues that he was not afforded an impartial fact-finder because the DHO falsely claimed to have reviewed evidence that did not exist. According to Love, the DHO lied in reporting that she relied on a statement from Love because he made a “comment” during his hearing, not a “statement.” (Pet. 3.) Love also contends that the DHO falsely claimed to have reviewed an evidence card that did not actually exist. Finally, Love argues that the DHO lied when she reported that she reviewed video footage, because the video footage does not reveal any incriminating conduct. Respondent contends that Love's arguments are “based solely on semantics” and are without merit. (Def.'s Resp. to Order to Show Cause 6, ECF No. 4.)

         In the prison disciplinary context, adjudicators are “entitled to a presumption of honesty and integrity, ” and “the constitutional standard for improper bias is high.” Piggie v. Cotton, 342 F.3d 660, 666 (7th Cir. 2003). While prisoners have a right to be free from arbitrary punishment, they are sufficiently protected from such action where the procedural safeguards in Wolff have been satisfied. McPherson, 188 F.3d at 787; Guillen v. Finnan, 219 F. App'x. 579, 582 (7th Cir. 2007). Thus, the Court agrees with the Respondent. Contrary to Love's assertions, there is no evidence that the DHO was dishonest or partial. Love's first assertion, that the DHO dishonestly represented his comment at the hearing as a “statement, ” has no merit. Love was present during ...


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