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Brownlee v. Knight

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

August 6, 2019

MAURICE BROWNLEE, Petitioner,
v.
WENDY KNIGHT, Respondent.

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

          JAMES R. SWEENEY II JUDGE

         The petition of Mr. Maurice Brownlee for a writ of habeas corpus challenges a prison disciplinary proceeding identified as CIC 18-03-0343. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Mr. Brownlee's habeas petition must be denied.

         A. 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).

         B. The Disciplinary Proceeding

         On March 21, 2018, Lieutenant Coats wrote a conduct report charging Mr. Brownlee with violating Code B-202, possession of a controlled substance. Dkt 8-1. The conduct report states:

On March 21, 2018 at approx. 7:30 pm, I Lt. L. Coats was doing an [sic] Prea Inspection in D-Unit. I walked by cell 21-2D and noticed Offender Brownlee, Maurice #173631 21B-2D (BM) standing at the metal desk in that cell. I walked in and asked him what he was doing and what that was on the desk. He stated to me that it was a cigarette he rolling. I searched the offender and told him to step out of the cell. I looked at the brown paper and found small white pieces of paper laying on it. I asked Brownlee what it was and he stated it was just tea on the paper. I asked him if the white pieces of paper were spice and he said “NO”. I told him that I believe it is and that I will have it tested. He told me to go ahead and have it tested, because it will not test for anything. I also found what appears to be measuring paper to measure how to cut items into different sizes. I confinscated [sic] all the above items.

Id.

         Lieutenant Coats completed a confiscation slip and placed the items in an evidence locker. Dkt. 8-2; dkt. 8-3 at 2.

         Investigator Steven Hall completed a Suspicious Controlled Substance Confirmation form stating that the confiscated substances constitute a violation of Code B-202. Dkt. 8-3 at 1. The form explained that chemical tests are not available “to positively identify all controlled substances, ” so the prison relies “on the circumstances surrounding the items found and identified as synthetic marijuana or drug paraphernalia.” Id. Because offense B-202 proscribes possession of “both paraphernalia and ‘lookalike' substances, ” the form continues, any “items found that appear to be used for smoking/consuming controlled substances, including but not limited to . . . papers soaked in coffee (or other liquids) [or] suspicious torn pieces of paper . . . will constitute a violation of ADP B202 Possession or Use of a controlled substance.” Id.

         On March 22, 2018, the screening officer notified Mr. Brownlee of the charge and served him with a copy of the conduct report and a copy of the notice of disciplinary hearing. Dkt. 8-1; dkt. 8-4. Mr. Brownlee pleaded not guilty and requested a lay advocate who was later appointed. Dkt. 8-4. Mr. Brownlee did not request witnesses but wrote, “brought a bag to present.” Id.

         On April 2, 2018, the hearing officer held a disciplinary hearing. Dkt. 8-5. Mr. Brownlee pled not guilty and stated, “It was tobacco I was rolling. I was never searched by Mr. Coats.” Id. The hearing officer considered the staff reports, Mr. Brownlee's statement, and the physical evidence-the measuring tool and the brown paper-and found Mr. Brownlee guilty. Id. The hearing officer sanctioned Mr. Brownlee with a 90-day loss of good-time credit. Id.

         Mr. Brownlee filed appeals to the Facility Head and the Final Review Authority. Dkt. 8-6 at 2. Both appeals were denied. Dkt. 8-6 at 1; dkt. 8-7. Mr. Brownlee then brought this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         C. ...


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