United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
ANTONIO L. VAUGHN, Petitioner,
OPINION AND ORDER
L. Vaughn, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus
petition challenging his disciplinary hearing (ISP 17-02-31)
at the Indiana State Prison on February 7, 2017, where a
Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty of
engaging in an unauthorized financial transaction in
violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) policy
B-220. ECF 1 at 1. As a result, he lost 30 days earned credit
time. Id. The Warden has filed the administrative
record and Vaughn filed a traverse. Thus this case is fully
Fourteenth Amendment guarantees prisoners certain procedural
due process rights in prison disciplinary hearings: (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 defense, when consistent with institutional
safety and correctional goals; and (4) a written statement by
the fact-finder of evidence relied on and the reasons for the
disciplinary action. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S.
539 (1974). To satisfy due process, there must also be
“some evidence” in the record to support the
guilty finding. Superintendent, Mass. Corr Inst. v.
Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985). In his petition, Vaughn
argues there is one ground which entitles him to habeas
threshold matter, the DHO had sufficient evidence to find
Vaughn guilty of engaging in an unauthorized financial
transaction. In the context 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.” Superintendent v.
Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-56 (1985). “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
Vaughn was found guilty of violating IDOC offense B-220,
which prohibits inmates from “[e]ngaging in or
possessing materials used for unauthorized financial
transactions. This includes, but is not limited to, the use
or possession of identifying information of credit cards,
debit cards, or any other card used to complete a financial
transaction.” Adult Disciplinary Process, Appendix I.
Conduct Report charged Vaughn as follows:
On February 2, 2017, at approximately 12:54 pm, offender
Vaughn, Antonio DOC #173839 made a phone call to (812)
841-6730 assigned to Marc McLawyer listed as his brother.
During the phone conversation he asked him to make a call to
a “Ms. Stevens” for another offender named Brian.
At four minutes 50 seconds into the call offender Vaughn
received two PayPal numbers. After the first number was given
Mr. McLawyer said at five minutes 34 seconds, “The next
ones for 25.”
ECF 11-1 at 1.
assessing the evidence, the DHO determined there was
sufficient evidence in the record to find Vaughn guilty of
violating offense B-220. A conduct report alone can be enough
to support a finding of guilt. McPherson, 188 F.3d
at 786. Such is the case here. On February 2, 2017,
Intelligence Officer Callie Burke, the reporting officer,
heard Vaughn make a phone call to his brother, Marc McLawyer,
who asked him to make a call to a “Ms. Stevens”
on behalf of “Brian” another offender. ECF 11-1
at 1. During the phone call, McLawyer gave Vaughn two series
of numbers-871-113-4088 and 880-389-8560-both which Burke
later identified as PayPal numbers. ECF 9 at 1. In doing so,
Burke ascertained that the initial three digits for both
series of numbers did not reflect valid area codes.
Id. He also noted that both series of numbers were
for $25.00. Id. The court has reviewed the audio
recording of the phone call and it is clear from the
recording that Vaughn and McLawyer explicitly discussed the
two PayPal numbers, 871-113-4088 and 880-389-8560, and
placing $25.00 on each of these series of numbers. ECF 12.
Furthermore, the court's review of the audio recording
shows that McLawyer, who seemed to think that Vaughn may have
been doing something he was not permitted to do, asked Vaughn
if he was able to get numbers like that on the phone.
Id. Therefore, given the context of the phone call
between Vaughn and McLawyer, coupled with Burke's
identification of the two series of numbers as PayPal
numbers, there was more than “some evidence” for
the DHO to find Vaughn guilty of engaging in an unauthorized
Vaughn argues his due process rights were violated because he
was improperly denied the opportunity to review the audio
recording of his February 2, 2017 phone call with his
brother. ECF 1 at 2. Here, Vaughn claims that the audio
recording would have shown that the “so-called
numbers” were not PayPal numbers but instead were phone
numbers. ECF 15 at 2. Inmates have a right to present
relevant, exculpatory evidence in their defense. Miller
v. Duckworth, 963 F.3d 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, 720 (7th Cir. 1996).
Vaughn's right to present evidence was satisfied. During
his screening, Vaughn had the opportunity to request
witnesses and evidence in his defense. However, Vaughn did
not request any physical evidence and never indicated on the
screening report that he wanted to review the February 2,
2017 audio recording of the phone call he had with his
brother. ECF 11-2 at 1. Rather, Vaughn only requested the
opportunity to review the audio recording on the day of the
hearing when he provided the statement that he
“[r]equested to hear the audio from the phone call.
They were not Paypal numbers.” ECF 11-4 at 1. Yet due
process is not denied when the prison officials deny
untimely, day-of-hearing requests for evidence or refuse to
consider evidence that could have been but was not timely
requested. McPherson, 188 F.3d at 786; Hamilton
v. O'Leary, 976 F.2d 341, 346-47 (7th Cir. 1992).
Even though Vaughn's request to review the audio evidence
was untimely, the DHO noted in her decision that she listened
to the audio recording and it supported the conduct report.
ECF 11-4 at 1. The court has reviewed the audio recording and
finds that there is nothing potentially exculpatory in the
phone call. Furthermore, the court has reviewed Burke's
document, (ECF 9 at 1), and, despite Vaughn's contention
that the numbers were phone numbers, Burke confirmed that the
two series of numbers were PayPal numbers. Therefore, this
ground does not provide a basis for habeas corpus relief.
extent the DHO might have erred in denying Vaughn's
request to review the audio recording, the error was
harmless. When a prisoner is denied the opportunity to
present relevant evidence, the prisoner must establish that
the denial of the evidence resulted in actual prejudice
rather than harmless error. Piggie v. Cotton, 342
F.3d 660, 666 (7th Cir. 2003). Here, Vaughn participated in
the phone call with his brother so he was aware of the
contents of the audio recording. He has not established that
being able to review a recording of his own phone
conversation with his brother would provide him with anymore
information than what he had already known. Thus, Vaughn was
not prejudiced in any way by the DHO's denial of his last
minute request to review the audio recording.
Vaughn wants to appeal this order, he does not need a
certificate of appealability because he is challenging a
prison disciplinary proceeding. See Evans v. Circuit
Court, 569 F.3d 665, 666 (7th Cir. 2009). However, he
may not proceed in forma pauperis on appeal because pursuant