United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
LOZANO, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
matter is before the Court on the Petition under 28 U.S.C.
Paragraph 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus, filed by
Christopher Deardorff, a pro se prisoner. For the
reasons set forth below, the petition (ECF 1) is
DENIED. The clerk is
DIRECTED to CLOSE this
petition, Deardorff challenges the prison disciplinary
hearing (MCF 16-09-494) where he was found guilty of
conspiracy to traffic in violation of Indiana Department of
Correction (IDOC) policy A-111/A-113 by the Disciplinary
Hearing Officer (DHO). ECF 1 at 1. Deardorff was sanctioned
with the loss of 90 days earned credit time and was demoted
from Credit Class 1 to Credit Class 2.
Conduct Report charges:
On August 22, 2016 at approximately 11:10am the Investigation
Department confiscated a package coming into the facility for
Offender Christopher Deardorff, 985307. The package was a
Priority Mail 2-Day package containing one paperback book
titled; The Charm School. This department has reason to
believe the book contained Suboxone. Phone calls acknowledged
that Deardorff worked with a female suspect, and another
offender to traffic drugs. Upon further inspection hidden
inside the book was twelve suboxone strips. Investigation
shows Deardorff and Offender Jeffrey Pellegrino, 966538 did
conspire with a female, Ms. Michelle Wooten in the amount of
$500 which Deardorff's family sent to Wooten for
purchasing, packaging and sending this package to Deardorff.
Details of this case can be reviewed by DHB in the DII
office; jpays, calls related documents. Ms. Wooten during an
interview acknowledged that she did package and send Suboxone
in at the request of Deardorff. See attached Investigation
Report for details on Case 16-MCF-0101. MCF is currently
working with outside Law Enforcement Agencies on warrants for
all parties involved.
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 their 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).
claims that he is entitled to habeas corpus relief because
IDOC failed to follow its own policies in imposing his
discipline. 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) (inmate's claim
that prison failed to follow internal policies had “no
bearing on his right to due process”). Thus,
Deardorff's first argument does not identify a basis for
habeas corpus relief.
Deardorff claims that he is entitled to habeas corpus relief
because he was denied access to evidence. Specifically, he
requested evidence: (1) that he called Ms. Wooten on the
phone; (2) a review of the interview with Ms. Wooten; and (3)
any statement submitted by Ms. Wooten. Inmates have a right
to present relevant, exculpatory evidence in their defense.
Miller v. Duckworth, 963 F.2d 1002, 1005 (7th Cir.
1992). Exculpatory in this context means evidence which
“directly undermines the reliability of the evidence in
the record pointing to [the prisoner's] guilt.”
Meeks v. McBride, 81 F.3d 717, 721 (7th Cir. 1996).
However, prison officials are provided great deference in
their decisions to limit this right based on the
administrative or security needs of the facility. An
“inmate facing disciplinary proceedings should be
allowed to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in
his defense when permitting him to do so will not be unduly
hazardous to institutional safety or correctional
goals.” Wolff, 418 U.S. at 566-67.
case, Deardorff's requests were properly denied. First,
Deardorff's request for evidence that he spoke with Ms.
Wooten on the phone was properly considered and denied. Prior
to the hearing, Deardorff received a response to his requests
for evidence. This response explained that the Screening
Officer spoke with an investigator, reviewed the materials
relevant to the disciplinary case, and confirmed that
Deardorff did not make any phone calls to Ms. Wooten. The DHO
could not review or produce evidence that did not exist.
the DHO properly denied Deardorff's request to review the
interview and other statements by Ms. Wooten. The interview
was confidential and was part of an on-going criminal
investigation. At the time of his discipline, warrants were
in the process of being issued against the involved parties.
Respondent submitted a declaration of Lorna Harbuagh, the
investigating officer assigned to this disciplinary case. ECF
7-10 at 1. Investigator Harbuagh explained that Deardorff
could not have been shown the interview of Ms. Wooten because
“the interview was conducted by outside law enforcement
during an ongoing criminal investigation. Additionally, the
interview would have been kept confidential from offender
Deardorff because he, Ms. Wooten, and offender Pellegrino,
were all suspects in the ongoing criminal
investigation.” Id. at 2. Thus, IDOC had a
reasonable security concern related to the disclosure of any
statement by a suspect in the criminal investigation, and the
denial of Deardorff's requests did not violate his due
process rights and do not entitle him to habeas corpus
Deardorff argues that the DHO did not have sufficient
evidence to find him guilty. In evaluating whether there is
adequate evidence to support the findings of a prison
disciplinary hearing, “the relevant question is whether
there is any evidence in the record that could support the
conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.”
Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56. A conduct report alone can
provide evidence sufficient to support the finding of guilt.
McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784, 786 (7th Cir.
1999). “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 ...