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Keplinger v. Warden

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

June 18, 2018

WARDEN, Respondent.



         Tyson Keplinger, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (ISP 16-8-305) where a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty of aiding in the battery of staff in violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) Policies A-111 and A-117 on September 9, 2016. ECF 7-3 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 120 days earned credit time and the imposition of a previously suspended sanction of 90 days of lost earned credit time. Id. The Respondent has filed the administrative record and Keplinger filed a traverse. Thus this case is fully briefed.

         The 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, Keplinger argues there are two grounds which entitle him to habeas corpus relief.

         Keplinger first asserts that the DHO did not have sufficient evidence to find him guilty. ECF 1 at 1. 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 omitted).

         Here, Keplinger was found guilty of violating IDOC offenses A-111 and A-117, for aiding in the battery of staff. IDOC offense A-111 prohibits inmates from “[a]ttempting or conspiring or aiding and abetting with another to commit any Class A offense.” Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process: Appendix I. IDOC offense A-117 prohibits inmates from “[c]ommitting battery/assault upon any staff person, including contractors and volunteers, which results in bodily injury or serious bodily injury (including the throwing of body fluids or waste on a staff person).” Id.

         The Conduct Report charged Keplinger as follows:

On 8/23/2016 Offender Keplinger was observed by Investigator Dustin tampering with the locking device of Offender Bardlette #120178 handcuffs, loosening them so that Offender Bardlette could assault staff. Due to Offender Keplinger's aiding and abetting Offender Bardlette, staff were injured and would not have been without Offender Keplinger's assistance.

ECF 7-1 at 1.

         The written video summary states:

Offender Bardlette is on the range in IDU 200 East side cuffed behind the back. Sgt. T. Reed and Officer R. Westman are shaking down offender Bardlette's cell. He is seen walking down the range towards the back of IDU 200 East.
At approx. 9:50AM offender Bardlette goes to offender Keplinger's cell IDU 248 East. You can see him turn around and offender Keplinger is tampering with the cuffs that offender Bardlette has on his wrists. He looks to be loosening them.
A short time later at approx. 9:52AM offender Bardlette walks up the range, cuffs off and assaults Sgt. Reed. A fight is seen and offender Bardlette is seen running down the 200 East range to the 100 East range. Sgt. Reed is ...

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