United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
Vernatter, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus
petition challenging a disciplinary hearing (STP 17-12-28)
where a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty
of engaging in an unauthorized financial transaction in
violation of Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) policy
B-220 on December 7, 2017. ECF 2 at 1. As a result, Vernatter
was sanctioned with the loss of 90 days earned credit time,
which was suspended, and a one-step demotion in credit class.
Id. The Warden has filed the administrative record
and Vernatter has filed a traverse. Thus this case is fully
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).
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
case, Vernatter was found guilty of violating IDOC offense
B-220, which prohibits inmates from “[e]ngaging in or
possessing materials used for unauthorized financial
transactions. This includes, but is not limited to, the use
or possession of identifying information of credit cards,
debit cards, or any other card used to complete a financial
transaction.” Indiana Department of Correction, Adult
Disciplinary Process: Appendix I.
6-1-2015(1).pdf. Furthermore, IDOC's Manual of
Policies and Procedures, Number 04-01-104, Section IX states
in relevant part that: “[o]ffenders found to be
attempting or completing financial transactions, including
the sending of monies from one offender to another or the
sending of monies from the family/friends of one offender to
another, shall be subject to disciplinary action.” ECF
8-1 at 4.
Stevens wrote a conduct report charging Vernatter as follows:
On 12/4/17 at approximately 0930 I, Investigator Stevens,
conducted a review of Offender Randy Vernatter #167533
financial transfers on JPay. During the review a transaction
occurred on 9/22/17 from Elena Baker in the amount of $80.00
to Randy Vernatter's account. Elena Baker is on the
Counselor's Approved List for another offender at HTCF
(Charles Boyd #106502). End of Report.
ECF 8-1 at 1.
December 4, 2017, Vernatter was notified of the charge when
he was served with the conduct and screening reports. ECF 8-1
at 1, ECF 8-2 at 1. During his screening, Vernatter did not
request any witnesses or physical evidence. ECF 8-2 at 1.
However, he did request the assistance of a lay advocate and
one was provided for him. ECF 8-3 at 1.
disciplinary hearing was held on December 7, 2017. ECF 8-5 at
1. The hearing officer recorded Vernatter's oral
statement: “Only people that should send me money are
my emergency contacts. Charles Boyd is my old lady's
nephew, his wife sent me money.” Id. On the
basis of the conduct report and a photo of Vernatter's
prison account summary documenting the unauthorized financial
transaction, the hearing officer found Vernatter guilty of
violating offense B-220. Id.
petition, Vernatter argues there are three grounds which
entitle him to habeas corpus relief. ECF 2 at 2-3. In his
first ground, he claims his due process rights were violated
because he was improperly denied the services of a lay
advocate. ECF 2 at 2. However, contrary to his claim, the
record unequivocally shows that Christopher Cooley was
assigned to be Vernatter's lay advocate. ECF 8-3 at 1. In
any event, he was not entitled to the services of a lay
advocate in this case. A lay advocate is only required when
the inmate is illiterate or the issues in a case are complex.
Wolff, 418 U.S. at 570; see also Miller v.
Duckworth, 963 F.2d 1002 (7th Cir. 1992). As reflected
in his petition and traverse, Vernatter is not illiterate.
Neither was this a complex case. In other words, Vernatter
clearly understood the facts of what happened and was capable
of explaining why he did not believe he should have been
found guilty. While he was not entitled to a lay advocate,
one was provided for him. Therefore, Vernatter's first
ground does not state a basis for granting habeas corpus
second ground, Vernatter asserts his due process rights were
violated because there was insufficient evidence of his
guilt. ECF 2 at 2. In assessing the sufficiency of the
evidence, a conduct report alone can be enough to support a
finding of guilt. McPherson, 188 F.3d at 786. Such
is the case here. In the conduct report, Investigator Steven
explained that, on December 4, 2017, he conducted a review of
Vernatter's financial transactions in his J-Pay account.
ECF 8-1 at 1. The review showed that Elena Baker made an
$80.00 deposit into Vernatter's J-Pay account on
September 22, 2017. Id. Steven determined that
Baker's deposit into Vernatter's account was not
authorized because she was not on Vernatter's approved
visitor's list. Id. Instead, Baker was on the
approved visitor's list ...