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Chandler v. Warden

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

March 8, 2019

KEVIN CHANDLER, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON JUDGE

         Kevin Chandler, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (ISP 17-10-19) where a disciplinary hearing officer found him guilty of unauthorized possession of an electronic device in violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) policy B-207 on October 6, 2017. ECF 1 at 1, 7-3 at 1. He was sanctioned with the loss of 60 days earned credit time. ECF 7-3 at 1. The Warden has filed the administrative record. Chandler 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 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, Chandler was found guilty of violating IDOC offense B-207 which prohibits inmates from “[u]nauthorized alteration, use or possession of any electronic device, including, but not limited to: computer, computer software, pager, PDA, computer disk, CD/DVD, recording tape (audio or video) or associated hardware. (This offense includes accessing computers, software, the Internet, social media, a facility LAN, etc. or using such in a manner not authorized by the Department of Correction and the alteration of authorized electrical devices, such as televisions, fans, etc, for unauthorized purposes, e.g., charging cellular telephones/electronic devices, etc.).” Indiana Department of Correction, Adult Disciplinary Process, Appendix I. See http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04-101APPENDIXI-OFFENSES6-1-2015(1).pdf.

         The conduct report charged Chandler as follows:

On 10-3-17 at approx. 09:30am Myself (Lt. V. McCormick) along with Lt. C. Wilson went down to the Property Room to get some items from Offender Chandler, Kevin 138734 IDU-1W121 stored property. While looking for some items I came across a Homemade box. I then proceed to open the box an[d] found 1 USB Cord, 1 Charging cord, and 1 Alcatel onetouch TLi020F2 Li-ion [battery]. Those items were confiscated and forwarded to I[A].

ECF 7-1 at 1. On October 4, 2017, Chandler was notified of the charge when he was served with the conduct and screening reports. ECF 7-1 at 1, 7-2 at 1. He pled not guilty and requested a lay advocate. ECF 7-2 at 1-2. During screening, Chandler requested one witness-caseworker Hale-and the prison's security video footage of the incident. ECF 7-2 at 1. Hale provided the following written statement:

Offender Chandler is getting all of his paperwork to file a Tort claim for his missing property. He had received two property sheets . . . . and they had a few differences on them. The offender is under the impression that his property came up missing and he was given someone else's property.

ECF 7-3 at 3. Lieutenant Wilson, who assisted in the search of the property box, also wrote a statement about the incident:

On this day of 10-03-17 at approx. 0930 I, Lt. C. Wilson along with Lt. V. McCormick went to the property room to look for a mirror for offender Chandler #138734 when looking thru his box there was a small box with a secret compartment. ...

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