United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
S. VAN BOKKELEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Martin, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas corpus petition
challenging the prison disciplinary hearing (ISP 16-03-361)
where a disciplinary hearing officer (DHO) found him guilty
of possession or use of a controlled substance in violation
of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) policy B-202. (ECF
1 at 1.) As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 30
days earned credit time. (Id.) Respondent filed a
response. (ECF 6.) Martin filed a motion for extension of
time to file a traverse. (ECF 11.) This court granted
Martin's motion, providing him with an additional 90 days
in which to file a traverse. (ECF 14.) The extended deadline
came and passed with no response from Martin. The court has
waited several weeks beyond Martin's extended deadline,
but he has not yet filed his traverse, nor sought additional
time to do so. The court deems this matter fully briefed.
claims that he was denied due process because the DHO did not
have sufficient evidence on which to find him guilty. (ECF 1
at 2.) The imposition of prison discipline will be upheld so
long as there is some evidence to support the finding.
Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-56 (1985).
“[T]he relevant question is whether there is any
evidence in the record that could support the conclusion
reached by the disciplinary board.” Id.
“In reviewing a decision for some 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) (quotation marks omitted).
[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
omitted). 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).
IDOC defines offense B-202 as “[p]ossession or use of
any unauthorized substance controlled pursuant to the laws of
the State of Indiana or the United States Code or possession
of drug paraphernalia.” Adult Disciplinary Process,
The IDOC's definition of ‘possession' includes
any contraband on the prisoner's person, without
reference to ownership: “offenders are presumed to be
responsible for any property, prohibited property or
contraband that is located on their person, within their cell
or within areas of their housing, work, educational or
vocational assignment that are under their control.”
Disciplinary Code for Adult Offenders.
Indiana State law prohibits possession of any synthetic drug.
Ind. Code § 35-48-4-11.5.
had sufficient evidence on which to find Martin guilty of
violating IDOC policy. In fact, while there need only be
“some evidence” of guilt, in this case there was
abundant evidence supporting the DHO's finding. The
Conduct Report states:
[o]n 3/30/16 at approximately 11:30 am, I Sgt. McNeal was
inside checkpoint 5, when I observed Offender Martin #252397
be handed something from Offender Fisher # 942432. I stepped
out the checkpoint and asked both offenders to empty their
pockets. Martin removed from his right pocket his ID card 4
small white packages. The packages were concealed under his
ID card. He immediately dropped the packages into the
available trash bin and stated “those aren't
mine.” I confiscated the packages and brought both
offenders to checkpoint 5 and patted them down. Both
offenders were then escorted to custody hall for a full strip
search. The packages were placed into IA locker #3 and
photographed. The packages contained green leafy substance.
(ECF 1-1 at 1.) The confiscated substances subsequently
tested positive for “synthetic cannabinoids.”
(ECF 6-3 at 3.) Martin requested that Officer Fox, the
officer who conducted the strip search, be interviewed as a
witness. (ECF 4-6 at 1.) Officer Fox stated that Sgt. McNeal
told him about the contraband discovered and Officer Fox
reported that there was no further contraband on Martin's
person at the time of the strip search. (ECF 6-5 at 1.) The
DHO reviewed the evidence from the witnesses, camera footage,
photographs of the contraband, photographs of the drug test
results, and the witness statement by Officer Fox. (ECF 6-9
at 1.) On the basis of this evidence, the DHO found Martin
guilty of violating IDOC B-202. (Id.) This finding
was not unreasonable or arbitrary in light of the eye-witness
and physical evidence against Martin. The DHO had sufficient
evidence on which to find Martin guilty of possession a
controlled substance in violation of IDOC B-202.
also argues that he was denied due process because the DHO
was not impartial. (ECF 1 at 2.) According to Martin, prior
to the start of the hearing, the DHO told Martin's lay
advocate that “she was finding all offenders guilty at
their hearings due to being upset at the stabbings of two (2)
corrections officers just days before holding Offender
Martin's hearing.” Id. The Respondent
contends, “[t]his unsubstantiated claim does not show
bias.” (ECF 6 at 6.) Respondent argues that there is no
evidence demonstrating bias, such as the DHO's
substantial involvement in the underlying incident or
petitioner in a habeas corpus action must ordinarily provide
competent evidence-such as first-hand evidence-of a due
process violation. Wilson-El v. Finnan, 281 F.
App'x 589, 591-92 (7th Cir. 2008) (holding that there was
“no factual dispute [based on (petitioner's} actual
personal knowledge] that if resolved in his favor would
warrant relief” where inmate's claim of hearing
board's wrong-doing was based on hearsay); Johnson v.
Finnan, 467 F.3d 693, 694 (7th Cir. 2006) (“when a
prisoner who seeks a writ of habeas corpus provides competent
evidence [such as an affidavit by someone with personal
knowledge of the events] contradicting an assertion by the
prison disciplinary board on a material question of fact
pertinent to an issue of constitutional law, the district
court must hold an evidentiary hearing to determine where the
truth lies”). However, the petitioner must go even
further if he wishes to prevail on a claim that the hearing
officer was dishonest or biased. 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).
to Martin's assertions, there is no competent evidence
that the DHO was dishonest or partial. Rather, Martin's
claim that the DHO was partial is based exclusively on an
unsupported hearsay statement that the DHO allegedly made to
his lay advocate, who relayed the comment to Martin. Martin
has provided no support, such as an affidavit from his lay
advocate, to prove that the DHO actually made this comment.
Without some type of supporting evidence, this second-hand
hearsay does not constitute competent evidence of the
DHO's bias, nor meet the “high” burden of
proof necessary to prove bias. See Piggie, 342 F.3d
at 666; Wilson-El, 281 F. App'x at 591-92;
Johnson, 467 F.3d at 694.
next argues that IDOC violated its own policy by failing to
“properly complete the chain of custody.” (ECF 1
at 2.) 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”). Moreover, “[p]rison 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). 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 does not serve as a basis
for habeas corpus relief.
final argument is that he was denied equal protection of the
law because he was punished more harshly than another inmate.
The Equal Protection Clause prohibits the state from treating
one group of similarly situated persons arbitrarily worse
than another group, on the basis of membership in a protected
class. Morales v. Newkirk, 85 F.3d 631 (7th Cir.
1996) (no equal protection claim where prisoner was
disciplined more harshly than another because prisoner failed
to allege that he was discriminated against because of his
membership in a protected class); see also Hill v.
Davis, 58 F. App'x 207, 209 (7th Cir. 2002)
(unpublished) (“absent evidence that any disparity in
punishment was based upon a suspect classification [like ...