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Christmas v. Warden

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

December 10, 2018

ALVIN CHRISTMAS, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert L. Miller, Jr. JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Alvin Christmas, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (ISP 17-07-307) in which a hearing officer found him guilty of making or possessing intoxicants in violation of Indiana Department of Correction policy B-231 on July 21, 2017. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 30 days earned credit time. The Warden has filed the administrative record and Mr. Christmas filed a traverse, making the case ripe for ruling.

         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 requirement, 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, Mr. Christmas argues there are two grounds which entitle him to habeas corpus relief.

         In the first ground, Mr. Christmas contends there was insufficient evidence for the hearing officer 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.” Supt. v. Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-456. “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. Christmas was found guilty of making or possessing intoxicants in violation of IDOC policy B-231, which prohibits inmates from ”[m]aking or possessing intoxicants, or being under the influence of any intoxicating substance (e.g., alcohol, inhalants). Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process: Appendix I. http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04-101 APPENDIXI-OFFENSES6-1-2015(1).pdf.

         The conduct report charged Mr. Christmas as follows:

On 7-17-17 at approx 8:45 am I officer French found intoxicants in the cabinet in offender Christmas 128467 and it tested positive for alcohol.

ECF 5-1 at 1.

Officer Brown provided this statement about the incident:
On 7-17-17 at approx. 8:45 am I Officer Brown saw Officer French find intoxicants that tested positive for alcohol in the cabinet in offender 128462 B224.

ECF 5-2 at 1.

         The hearing officer provided the following written summary of the ...


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