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Adams v. Warden

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

June 5, 2019

BENJAMIN ADAMS, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, Respondent.

          ENTRY DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DIRECTING ENTRY OF FINAL JUDGMENT

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Benjamin Adams' petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenges his conviction in a prison disciplinary proceeding identified as IYC 16-17-0176. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Mr.

         Adams' petition must be denied.

         I. Overview

         Prisoners in Indiana custody may not be deprived of good-time credits or of credit-earning class without due process. Ellison v. Zatecky, 820 F.3d 271, 274 (7th Cir. 2016); Scruggs v. Jordan, 485 F.3d 934, 939 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Rhoiney v. Neal, 723 Fed.Appx. 347, 348 (7th Cir. 2018). The due process requirement is satisfied with: 1) the issuance of at least 24 hours advance written notice of the charge; 2) a limited opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence to an impartial decision-maker; 3) a written statement articulating the reasons for the disciplinary action and the evidence justifying it; and 4) “some evidence in the record” to support the finding of guilt. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985); see also Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-67 (1974).

         II. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         On November 22, 2016, Investigator P. Prulhiere completed a Report of Investigation describing Mr. Adams' involvement in an effort to traffic synthetic marijuana at Plainfield Correctional Facility. Dkt. 13-2. The report states that a package was thrown over the prison's fence from a car and that security video showed Mr. Adams taking possession of part of the package-which contained synthetic marijuana-from another inmate. Id. Later, on November 22, Investigator Prulhiere wrote a Report of Conduct concluding that the evidence uncovered in the investigation was sufficient to charge Mr. Adams with dealing in a synthetic drug or lookalike substance in violation of Indiana Code § 35-48-4-10.5(e)(1)(B). Dkt. 13-1.

         The disciplinary proceeding against Mr. Adams was resolved once but set for rehearing. On February 28, 2018, in preparation for the rehearing, Mr. Adams received a Screening Report notifying him that he had been charged with “Conspiracy/Attempt/Aiding in Trafficking” in violation of Codes A-111 and A-113 of the Indiana Department of Correction's (IDOC) Adult Disciplinary Process. Dkt. 13-3. The screening report indicates that Mr. Adams intended to plead guilty, and it includes the following written statement: “I pled Guilty to B 233 Giving or Receiving.” Id.[1]

         The hearing officer found Mr. Adams guilty of violating Code B-233 at a rehearing later on February 28, 2018. Dkt. 13-4. The hearing officer's report indicates that Mr. Adams made the following statement: “I Pled Guilty To B233 Giving/Recieving Anything of Value w/o sanction.” Id. The report indicates that the hearing officer considered Mr. Adams' statement and Investigator Prulhiere's reports in reaching his determination. Id. The hearing officer assessed sanctions, including the loss of 90 days' earned credit time and a suspended demotion of one credit-earning class. Id.[2]

         The hearing officer's report indicates that he did not sanction Mr. Adams to time in disciplinary restrictive status housing (DRSH) because he already served time in DRSH while awaiting his rehearing. Id. Shortly after his rehearing, however, Mr. Adams was assigned to Department Wide Administrative Restrictive Status Housing (DWARSH). Dkt. 15-1. IDOC records indicate that this assignment was based on Mr. Adams' “overall negative adjustment.” These documents indicate that Mr. Adams was convicted of at least seven conduct violations in the previous two years and that one of his disciplinary infractions resulted in serious bodily injury to an inmate. Id.

         III. Analysis

         Mr. Adams challenges his disciplinary conviction on two grounds: that he was denied an impartial decisionmaker, and that his conviction is not supported by sufficient evidence. These arguments fail for separate reasons.

         A. Impartial Decisionmaker

         A prisoner in a disciplinary action has the right to be heard before an impartial decision-maker. Hill, 472 U.S. at 454. A “sufficiently impartial” decision-maker is necessary to shield the prisoner from the arbitrary deprivation of his liberties. Gaither v. Anderson, 236 F.3d 817, 820 (7th Cir. 2000) (per curiam). Hearing officers “are entitled to a presumption of honesty and integrity” absent clear evidence to the contrary. Piggie v. Cotton, 342 F.3d 660, 666 (7th Cir. 2003); see Perotti v. Marberry, 355 Fed.Appx. 39, 43 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 47 (1975)). Indeed, the “the constitutional standard for impermissible bias is high, ” and hearing officers “are not deemed biased simply because they presided over a prisoner's previous disciplinary proceeding” or because they are employed by the IDOC. Piggie, 342 F.3d at 666. However, the presumption is overcome-and an ...


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