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James v. Knight

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

March 13, 2018

ETHAN JAMES, Petitioner,
v.
WENDY KNIGHT, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DIRECTING ENTRY OF FINAL JUDGMENT

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         The petition of Ethan James for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding identified as No. CIC 17-08-0292. For the reasons explained in this Order, Mr. James's habeas petition must be denied.

         A. Overview

         Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of good-time credits, Cochran v. Buss, 381 F.3d 637, 639 (7th Cir. 2004) (per curiam), 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).

         B. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         On August 18, 2017, Officer J. McGriff wrote a Conduct Report charging Mr. James with a violation of Code A-106, possession of a dangerous weapon. The Conduct Report states:

On August 18, 2017 at approximately 4:15 pm I Officer J. McGriff conducted a shakedown of cell 9-4A belonging to Offender James, Ethan # 260088 (9A-4A)(WM) and Offender Hall, Dennis # 243886 (9B-4A)(WM). Upon searching under the heater I found an altered toothbrush with an approximately four inch sharpened piece of metal attached to one end of it. The end had two razor blades attached to it. Both offenders denied ownership of the homemade weapon.

Dkt. No. 8-1. Mr. James was also provided with a Notice of Confiscated Property that, among other items, identified a “toothbrush with sharpened piece of metal attached to one end, and two razor blades attached to the other end” and listed “sm weapon” for the reason of confiscation. Dkt. No. 8-8. A photograph of the makeshift weapon was also taken. Dkt. No. 8-9.

         Mr. James was notified of the charge on August 24, 2017, when he received the Screening Report. He pleaded not guilty to the charge, did not request a lay advocate, and did not request any physical evidence. Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1; Dkt. No. 8-2. He requested to call: (1) Sergeant Nicholson to ask “did [offender] Kidd admit to leaving the weapon in my cell?”; (2) Officer Williams to ask “did [offender] Kidd admit to leaving the weapon in my cell?”; and (3) Kidd to ask “did you place the weapon in my cell without me & my bunkie knowing?” Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1; Dkt. No. 8-2. Sergeant Nicholson responded, “yes, [offender] Kidd admitted to owning the weapon.” Dkt. No. 1-1 at 3; Dkt. No. 8-7 at 2. Officer Williams responded, “yes the offender approached me after the incident the next day and admitted to placing the weapon in another offenders [sic] cell.” Dkt. No. 1-1 at 4; Dkt. No. 8-7 at 1. Offender Kidd responded, “yes.” Dkt. No. 1-1 at 2; Dkt. No. 8-3. The responses of Sergeant Nicholson and Officer Williams were submitted as conduct supplement reports. See Dkt. No. 8-7.

         The prison disciplinary hearing was held on September 6, 2017. According to the notes from the hearing, Mr. James stated: “[t]he evidence speaks for its self.” Dkt. No. 8-4. Based on the staff reports and the photo of the weapon, the hearing officer found Mr. James guilty of possession of a weapon. The sanctions imposed included seventy-seven (77) days of earned-credit-time deprivation and a two-level credit class demotion.

         Mr. James appealed to the Facility Head and the IDOC Final Reviewing Authority, both of which were denied. He then brought this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         C. Analysis

         1. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In his petition, Mr. James challenges his prison disciplinary conviction based on the sufficiency of the evidence. The respondent argues there was “some evidence” to support the conviction as the makeshift weapon was found in ...


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