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Spencer v. Warden

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

February 20, 2019

MICHAEL SPENCER, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, JUDGE

         Michael Spencer, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing where a disciplinary hearing officer found him guilty of using or possessing a cell phone in violation of Indiana Department of Correction policy. ECF 1 at 1. As a result, he was sanctioned with the loss of 90 days earned credit time. 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).

         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.” Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56. “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, Spencer was found guilty of violating IDOC offense A-121 because he possessed a cell phone. Specifically, IDOC offense A-121 prohibits inmates from “[u]nauthorized use or possession of any cellular telephone or other wireless or cellular communications device.” Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process: Appendix I. See http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04-101APPENDIXI- OFFENSES6-1-2015(1).pdf.

         Investigator Dustin wrote a Conduct Report charging Spencer as follows:

On 07/19/2017, Lieutenant Keith Wilson located a White LG Smartphone in the Recreation Office under a napkin on a shelf. Lieutenant Wilson confiscated the cell phone and submitted it into evidence. Upon receiving the cell phone on 07/20/2017, the phone was placed in a secured evidence locker pending an attempt to be downloaded by the Cellebrite machine. On 07/27/2017, I was able to begin the download process of the LG Volt that was located in the Recreation Office. Upon reviewing the UFED Physical Analyzer Extraction Summary, I was able to compare names and phone numbers to identify who the owner of the phone was. Under the Unlock Pattern on the report, the name Michael Spencer was observed as the owner of the phone. Text messages to the phone number (Contact name, “Queen bee”) 706-335-1442, was identified in the text messages as “Mom.” That phone number was run through the Offender Phone System (GTL) and belonged to Percy Spencer, mother of Michael Spencer #210470 A Cell House 318. Photos of Offender Spencer were located in the image summary. On 07/28/2017, Offender Spencer, Michael #210470 was interviewed by Investigator Dustin. Offender Spencer was asked if he would be willing to speak on regards to wear [sic] he purchased the cellular phone, he did not want to provide a statement.

         ECF 7-1 at 1.

         Dustin also prepared a Report of Investigation of Incident that states:

On 07/19/2017, Lieutenant Keith Wilson located a White LG Smartphone in the Recreation Office under a napkin on a shelf. Lieutenant Wilson confiscated the cell phone and submitted it into evidence. The phone was received by Evidence Technician Willie Parnell and logged into evidence. The cellular phone was then delivered to Investigator Dustin on 07/20/2017.
Upon receiving the cell phone on 07/20/2017, the p[h]one was placed in a secured evidence locker pending an attempt to be downloaded by the Cellebrite machine. On 07/27/2017, I was able to begin the download process of the ...

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