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Keller v. Superintendent New Castle Correctional Facility

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

October 13, 2017



          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         The petition of Kenneth Keller for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding, NCF 16-05-0187, in which he was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance. For the reasons explained in this entry, Mr. Keller's habeas petition must be denied.

         I. Overview

         Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of credit time, Cochran v. Buss, 381 F.3d 637, 639 (7th Cir. 2004), or of credit-earning class, Montgomery v. Anderson, 262 F.3d 641, 644-45 (7th Cir. 2001), without due process. The due process requirement is satisfied with the issuance of advance written notice of the charges, a limited opportunity to present evidence to an impartial decision maker, a written statement articulating the reasons for the disciplinary action and the evidence justifying it, and “some evidence in the record” to support the finding of guilt. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985); Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 570-71 (1974); Jones v. Cross, 637 F.3d 841, 845 (7th Cir. 2011); Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2003); Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000).

         II. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         On May 20, 2016, Correctional Officer Cutshall issued a Report of Conduct charging Mr. Keller with possession or use of controlled substance in violation of Code B-202. The Report of Conduct states:

On the above date and approximate time, I Officer Cutshall performed a rand[om] shake down of offender Kenneth Keller (#233670) bunk and property box. Durring [sic] my shake down I found a brownish powder inside a bag with a peace [sic] of tin foil. All of this was in a small box under his sleeping mat on his bunk. I sent the substance up with the Sgt on duty to be tested. I was later informed that the substance had tested positive for meth[amphetamine]. Offender was told he would be rec[ei]ving a conduct report.

Dkt. 8-1 (capitalization modified).

         Mr. Keller was notified of the charge on May 20, 2016, when he was served with the Report of Conduct and the Notice of Disciplinary Hearing (Screening Report). The Screening Officer noted that Mr. Keller requested statements from offenders Spencer Atwood and R. McGill. Dkt. 8-2. The Screening Officer also noted that Mr. Keller did not request any evidence. Id. Offender Atwood stated, “I was in the room at the time and to my knowledge there is no way that was anything but saw dust or glue. To [sic] further testing would confirm that.” Dkt. 8-3. Offender McGill stated, “I was in the room with Mr. Keller & I know for a fact that Mr. Keller did no drugs nor possess any drugs. The substance that is in question is wood shaving used to fill joints in on the seams of a popsickle [sic] stick box that Mr. Keller was building.” Dkt. 8-4. (capitalization modified).

         The hearing officer conducted a disciplinary hearing on May 25, 2016. Dkt. 8-6. The hearing officer noted Mr. Keller's statement, “It was not found under my mat. It was on the floor, I did not have any drugs. I only had one soup in the box.” Id. Based on the staff reports, statement of offender, evidence from witnesses, photographs, and report of field test, the hearing officer determined that Mr. Keller had violated Code B-202. Id. The sanctions imposed included disciplinary segregation (time served), a phone and commissary restriction, the deprivation of 90 days of earned credit time, and the demotion of a credit class. Id.

         Mr. Keller's appeals were denied. This habeas action followed.

         III. Analysis

         Mr. Keller argues that his due process rights were violated during the disciplinary proceeding. His claims are that: 1) the Report of Conduct was inadequate; 2) the field test report was inaccurate and unreliable; 3) the description of the substance found was inaccurate and unreliable; and 4) his request to have the substance retested at an outside lab was improperly denied.

         Mr. Keller first argues that the Report of Conduct was insufficient because it did not list the disposition of the physical evidence, thereby showing a break in the chain of custody. Due process requires that an inmate be given advanced “written notice of the charges . . . in order to inform him of the charges and to enable him to marshal the facts and prepare a defense.” Wolff, 418 U.S. at 564. “The notice should inform the inmate of the rule allegedly violated and summarize the facts underlying the charge.” Northern v. Hanks, 326 F.3d 909, 910 (7th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation omitted). The Report of Conduct described the substance and where it was found and attached to it was the field test report. Dkt. 8-1, pp. 1, 5. Photographs were taken and included with the Report of Conduct. Dkt. 8-1, pp. 2-4. The Report of Conduct informed Mr. Keller ...

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