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Wilson v.Warden

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

February 1, 2019

MICHAEL WILSON, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Michael Wilson, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed an amended habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing in which a Disciplinary Hearing Officer found him guilty of violating a state law, which in turn is a violation of Indiana Department of Correction policy A-100. ECF 6 at 1. As a result, Wilson was docked 360 days of earned credit time and was demoted in credit class to boot. Id.

         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). This means that, 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). This is an exceedingly low standard. Here's how the Seventh Circuit describes it:

[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, Wilson was found guilty of violating a state law for dealing in a synthetic drug in contravention of IDOC policy A-100, which prohibits inmates from violating any state law. See Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process: Appendix I. See http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04-101 APPENDIXI-OFFENSES6-1-2015(1).pdf. The particular state law violation that Wilson allegedly committed involved dealing in more than five grams of synthetic marijuana in violation of Indiana Code 35-48-4-10.5(e)(1)(B), a level 6 felony.

         In the Conduct Report, Investigator Prulhiere charged Wilson as follows:

On November 20, 2016, as a result of this investigation, I, Investigator P. Prulhiere, have found sufficient evidence to charge Offender Michael Wilson 990969 with the violation of State Law IC 35-48-4-10.5(e)(1)(B) Dealing in a synthetic drug or lookalike substance. Amount exceeding 5 grams.

ECF 11-1 at 1. A Report of Investigation of Incident was also prepared and states:

IC Code: 35-48-4-10.5(e)(1)(B) Dealing in a synthetic drug or lookalike substance. Amount exceeding 5 grams. On October 20, 2016 at approximately 10:05 am, I, Investigator P. Prulhiere was advised that green packages were observed thrown over the fence near the Health Services Unit from a car that was passing by. Having been notified of the circumstances involved in this incident, I used information that was already on file to narrow down a search parameter to find contraband that may have been introduced to the facility in this manner. I reviewed activity in housing Unit South G Unit and observed activity consistent with offenders in the process of hiding contraband. A search team was assembled and sent to G Unit where an Officer did retrieve two green packages from the G Unit latrine. During the process of investigation (summarized in confidential case number 16-IYC-0171) I observed the arrival of the packages to the facility, the movement of the packages to Housing Unit South G Unit and the attempted hiding of the items in G Unit latrine. I observed the command and control by the use of a cell phone and the attempts made by offenders to conceal this activity. As a result of this investigation, Offender Michael Wilson 990969 was found to have carried the packages from the Health Services Unit back to Housing Unit South. Once in G Unit, Offender Wilson handed control of the packages to another offender. The contents of the packages were inventoried and a complete inventory of the items is included in case number 16-IYC-0171. Amount the items present was a quantity of synthetic marijuana exceeding a weight of 5 grams. The presence of the synthetic drug is the reason this charge was filed for dealing in a synthetic drug.

ECF 11-1 at 2.

         Wilson was notified of the charge on November 30, 2016, when he was served with the conduct report and screening report, ECF 11-1 at 1 and ECF 11-2 at 1. The screening officer noted that Wilson did not request any witnesses, but did request a copy of the internal affairs report of investigation. ECF 11-2 at 1. At the hearing, Wilson stated: “I'm not guilty. I have never been caught with no drugs at all.” ECF 11-4 at 1. The hearing officer found Wilson guilty of violating offense A-100 based on staff reports, Wilson's statement, the report of investigation, and the evidence contained in the record. ECF 11-4 at 1, 11-9 at 2.

         In his amended petition, Wilson argues there are four grounds which entitle him to habeas corpus relief. ECF 6 at 2-6. In his first ground, he asserts his due process rights were violated because he was denied the right to present evidence in his defense. Id. at 2-3. In this regard, he claims that he was denied crucial evidence-photographs, video footage, and all exculpatory evidence-both during his screening and at the hearing. Id. at 2. A prisoner has a right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in a prison disciplinary proceeding. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 566. Wilson's right to present evidence was satisfied. During his screening, he had the right to request witnesses and evidence in his defense. However, as indicated on his screening report, Wilson did not request any witnesses or physical evidence-except for the internal affairs report of investigation for case number 16-IYC-0171. ECF 11-2 at 1. This is confirmed by the declarations filed in this case by both the screening officer, Haywood Andrews, and the hearing officer, Robert Gagnon. ECF 11-8 at 1-2, 11-9 at 1-2. In Andrews's declaration, he testified that “Wilson did not request any photographs, videos, or evidence during the screening except the Report of Investigation.” ECF 11-8 at 2. And Gagnon testified that “Wilson did not ...


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