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Estes v. Superintendent, Putnamville Correctional Facility

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

October 17, 2017

JESSE ESTES, Petitioner,
SUPERINTENDENT, Putnamville Correctional Facility, Respondent.


          Robert L. Miller, Jr. United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Indiana inmate Jesse M. Estes was disciplined in a prison disciplinary action for possession of a controlled substance in prison case number NCF 16-04-0255. Contending that the proceeding was tainted by constitutional error, Mr. Estes seeks a writ of habeas corpus. Finding no error of constitutional magnitude, Mr. Estes' petition for writ of habeas corpus, dkt. 1, is denied.

         II. Factual Background

         On April 26, 2016, New Castle Correctional Facility Officer Black was conducting a shake down of Estes' property box. Mr. Estes wasn't present. Officer Black found a white powder substance in the property box. The substance was taken to investigators by Sgt. Denny. Mr. Estes was given written notice of a charge of possession of a controlled substance, a B-202 violation.

         Mr. Estes requested witness statements from three offenders, a video of the search to demonstrate that he was not present for the search, and additional testing of the substance. The inmate statements were obtained and are part of the record. The request for the video was denied as being irrelevant, and the request for outside testing was denied as being unreasonable. See dkt. 10-2.

         The disciplinary hearing was held May 4, 2016. Mr. Estes attended, but declined to make a statement or comment. Offender Tison Randall's statement was considered. Mr. Randall reported that he had seen what he thought were milk packets and knew of no illegal substances possessed by Mr. Estes. Dkt. 10-3. The hearing officer also considered offender Jeffery Moore's statement that the shake down was conducted while Mr. Estes was gone and that Mr. Estes didn't have any drugs. Dkt. 10-4. Finally, the hearing officer considered offender Jeff Watson's statement that Mr. Estes had a white powder substance that was actually milk and that Mr. Estes drank it before and after workouts. Dkt. 10-5.

         The hearing officer also considered staff reports, photographs of the white powder substance and a confidential e-mail from investigators, and found Mr. Estes guilty of the charged misconduct. Mr. Estes was sanctioned and filed this action after his administrative appeals were rejected.

         The respondent agrees that Mr. Estes exhausted his administrative remedies before filing his petition.

         III. Legal Standard

         Prisoners in Indiana custody can't be deprived of good-time credits, 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); Piggie v. Cotton, 344 F.3d 674, 677 (7th Cir. 2003); Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000).

         IV. Mr. Estes' Claims and Analysis

         Mr. Estes raises four grounds for habeas corpus relief. First, he asserts that the conduct report states that a “bag” of a white powdery substance was found, but the photograph used in evidence at the hearing is a rubber glove, and that the photograph reflects a different case number than his disciplinary case. Dkt. 1, p. 2. Second, Mr. Estes asserts that he asked for video footage of the shake down but that his request wasn't addressed. Id. Third, Mr. Estes asserts that although a confidential report reported a positive test for cocaine, he wasn't personally tested with a drug screen, and his request for an outside test of the evidence wasn't addressed. Id. Fourth, and finally, Mr. Estes asserts that because the conduct report doesn't reflect a disposition of the physical evidence, the evidence “should be dismissed.” Dkt. 1, p. 3.

         Federal court review of prison disciplinary hearings is very narrow. The primary sources for these rights are Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. at 564-572 (setting forth the rights mandated by due process), and Supt. v. Hill, 472 U.S. at 453-457 (holding that sufficiency of the evidence claims are available and creating the “some evidence” standard). Mr. Estes' grounds for relief, ...

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