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Winemiller v. Warden

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

June 22, 2018

WARDEN, Respondent.



         James M. Winemiller, II, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (ISR 17-02-66) where a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty of attempting to traffick in violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) Policies A-111 and A-113 on May 5, 2017. ECF 1 at 1, ECF 8-9 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 180 days earned credit time. Id. The Warden has filed the administrative record. Winemiller has not filed a traverse and the time to do so has passed. 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, Winemiller argues there are three grounds which entitle him to habeas corpus relief.

         As a threshold matter, the DHO had sufficient evidence to find Winemiller guilty of attempting to traffick. 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).

         In this case, Winemiller was found guilty of violating IDOC offenses A-111 and A-113 for attempting to traffick. 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-113 prohibits inmates from “[e]ngaging in trafficking (as defined in IC 35-44.1-3-5) with anyone who is not an offender residing in the same facility.” Id.

         The Conduct Report charged Winemiller as follows:

On February 9, 2017 at approximately 2:00 P.M. I, Mr. W. C. Peterson Investigator III/Correctional Police Officer opened a large envelope stamped “Law Library Legal Mail Only.” The envelope was prepared by Offender Winemiller, James M. II 200037 who gave the envelope to Caseworker B. Edwards along with a Remittance Slip to pay for the postage to send the envelope to a person identified as Drew Kopatich with a mailing address of 1728 High Street Fort Wayne, Indiana 46808. The envelope was given to Mrs. A. Potter Mail Room Supervisor who referred the envelope to the Investigations and Intelligence Department for inspection because she believed based on her training and experience the envelope was being used as a concealment apparatus to smuggle contraband into the Pendleton Correctional Facility through the use of the United States Postal Service Mail Delivery System. Upon opening the envelope in the presence of Offender Winemiller the contents of the envelope were removed and upon inspection of the envelope's contents two (2) compartments were discovered along with a sheet of regular size typing paper with a return address for Kirchoff & Jewel Law Offices with a mailing address of 517 Broadway P.O. Box 944 Vincennes, IN 47591. Also written on the paper was the mailing address of Offender Winemiller which was written as follows James Winemiller DOC#200037 location 9-4E-JCH Indiana DOC Pendleton Correctional Facility 4490 West Reformatory RD. Pendleton, Indiana 46064.

         ECF 8-1 at 1.

         The conduct report listed Mail Room Supervisor A. Potter and Caseworker B.

         Edwards as witnesses. On February 14, 2017, Supervisor Potter wrote the following statement:

On 2-9-17 a suspicious legal was left on my desk by caseworker Brooke Edwards. It was from offender James Winemiller 200037 (9-4E) addressed to Attorney Drew Kopatich 1728 High St. Fort Wayne. Upon examining the package I thought it might have a compartment hidden inside so I xrayed [sic] it and found evidence of a possible compartment. Also, I could find no attorney listed by ...

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