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Cutler v. Warden

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

September 18, 2018

CURTIS T. CUTLER, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT L. MILLER, JR. JUDGE

         Curtis T. Cutler, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing in which a disciplinary hearing officer found him guilty of possession or use of a controlled substance in violation of Indiana Department of Correction Policy B-202 on April 5, 2017. He was sanctioned with the loss of 45 days earned credit time and a suspended one-step demotion in credit class. The 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 the due process clause, 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). Mr. Cutler presents a number of grounds he claims entitle him to habeas corpus relief.

         First, Mr. Cutler asserts that the hearing officer didn't have sufficient evidence to find him guilty. 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, 455-456 (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).

         Mr. Cutler was found guilty of offense B-202, which prohibits inmates from ”[p]ossession or use of any unauthorized substance controlled pursuant to the laws of the State of Indiana or the United States Code or possession of drug paraphernalia.” Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process: Appendix I. http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04-101APPENDIXI-OFFENSES 6-1-2015(1).pdf.

         The conduct report charged Mr. Cutler as follows:

On 3-12-17 at approximately 8:00 p.m. in GHU Sgt. J. Morgan and I (Sgt. J. Evans) searched cell G-141/142. During the search, I noticed that the caps of two vitamin bottles had been tampered with. I checked under the caps and found 12 orange in color strips believed to be [S]uboxone under one and 1 unknown substance rolled in paper that has been partially smoked believed to be K2 under the second cap. The vitamin[] bottles were in the shelving area of Offender Cutler. After the search was complete I questioned the offenders assigned to G-141/142 and Offender Cutler, Curtis 120754 of G-141 claimed that the vitamin bottles belonged to him and stated he did not know anything about the items found under the caps. Offender Cutler was identified by his state issued ID card.

ECF 7-1 at 1.

         Sergeant Morgan also provided the following statement:

On 3-12-17 at approximately 8:00 pm, I, Sergeant J. Morgan was assisting Sergeant J. Evans in a cell search of GHU-141/142. During the search Sergeant Evans was searching the shelving unit of Offender Cutler, Curtis DOC# 120754 when she located two vitamin bottles that [sic] with altered tops. After taking the tops off the bottles she located a hand rolled, partially smoked paper that was believed to [be] filled with K2. The second bottle had 12 orange strips of paper that are believed to be [S]uboxone.

ECF 7-2 at 1.

         In assessing the evidence, the hearing officer determined there was enough evidence in the record to find Mr. Cutler guilty of possessing controlled substances. A conduct report alone can be enough to support a finding of guilt, McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d at 786, and it was enough in Mr. Cutler's case. In the conduct report, Sergeant Evans detailed her search of Mr. Cutler's cell, where she found 12 orange-colored strips she believed to be Suboxone hidden in the cap of one vitamin bottle and one unknown substance rolled in paper and partially smoked she believed to be K2 (synthetic marijuana) hidden in the cap of a second vitamin bottle. She also documented Mr. Cutler's admission that the vitamin bottles belonged to him although he said he didn't know anything about anything under the caps. Sergeant Morgan, who assisted Sergeant Evans with the search, provided a statement detailing the discovery of the controlled substances in the tampered caps of the two vitamin bottles found in Mr. Cutler's cell. Photographic evidence of the two vitamin bottles, tampered bottle caps, and confiscated controlled substances corroborates the conduct report. In light of Sergeant Evans's discovery of the Suboxone and K2 in the ...


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