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Meeks v. McBride

April 17, 1996

MICHAEL MEEKS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,

v.

DANIEL R. MCBRIDE, AND ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF INDIANA, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 94 C 923--Allen Sharp, Chief Judge.

Before KANNE, ROVNER, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

ROVNER, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED FEBRUARY 15, 1996

DECIDED APRIL 17, 1996

Michael Meeks, an inmate of the Westville Correctional Center ("Westville") in Westville, Indiana, filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. sec. 2254, challenging the prison disciplinary board's decision to deprive him of good-time credits and to lower his good-time credit earning class. At the close of the second of two hearings, the disciplinary board imposed these sanctions after finding that Meeks had smoked marijuana in contravention of prison rules. Meeks contends that the board's decision was not supported by "some evidence" in the record as required by due process, Superintendent, Mass. Correctional Inst., Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985), and that the second hearing violated his rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause. The district court denied Meeks' petition and he appealed. Although we find no merit to Meeks' double jeopardy argument, we agree that the evidence relied on by the prison disciplinary board in support of its decision was insufficient to link him to the alleged misconduct. We therefore reverse.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 12, 1994, while making the evening rounds at the Westville dormitories, Officer L. Heilman allegedly observed Michael Meeks and another inmate smoking what he believed to be a marijuana cigarette. Heilman attempted to open the door to Meek's room, but found it locked. Heilman observed Meeks put something in his mouth and swallow it. After opening the door, Meeks allegedly went over to a window and blew smoke outside. In the meantime, Heilman searched the other inmate and confiscated what appeared to be two marijuana cigarettes in his possession. Heilman then filed a written Report of Conduct, bearing Meeks' correct prisoner number 932408, charging that Meeks had violated Adult Disciplinary Policy Procedures Code 221, which proscribes the possession or use of any unauthorized narcotic drug or controlled substance by a prison inmate. A copy of the report was given to Meeks on August 17, 1994.

The same day that he received the conduct report, Meeks was required to submit to a urine test to detect the presence of illegal drugs. A toxicology report was returned from the testing laboratory on August 30, 1994. The report stated that a urine sample taken from a Michael Meeks, prisoner number 942283, on August 17, 1994, had tested positive for the presence of marijuana. In light of that result, M. E. Reeves, who is the coordinator of the random drug testing program at Westville and was responsible for collecting the urine sample analyzed in the toxicology report, prepared a second Report of Conduct on September 1, 1994, charging Meeks with using an unauthorized drug or controlled substance in violation of Code 221. The second Report of Conduct originally bore the same prisoner number as that given in the toxicology report, number 942283. That number was later changed to reflect Meeks' prisoner number, 932408. When this change was made is not, however, entirely clear from the record. Meeks received a copy of the second conduct report on September 7, 1994.

On September 12, 1994, the Conduct Adjustment Board (CAB) held a disciplinary hearing to consider the charge brought against Meeks by Officer Heilman in the first Report of Conduct. After considering the report and Meeks' own testimony denying that he was smoking marijuana when Heilman observed him, the CAB found Meeks not guilty due to lack of evidence. Later that same day, the CAB held another disciplinary hearing to consider the second Report of Conduct, initiated against Meeks as a result of the toxicology report that had indicated the presence of marijuana metabolites in the urine sample believed to have been collected from Meeks on August 17, 1994. This time, the CAB concluded that Meeks was guilty of illicit drug use in violation of Code 221 on the basis of the laboratory test result. The CAB sanctioned Meeks by depriving him of ninety days of earned good-time credit and demoting him from credit class II to credit class III, thus preventing him from earning good-time credits in the future. Two subsequent administrative appeals, in which Meeks contended that the urine sample had been mislabeled and did not belong to him, and that he had been wrongly disciplined on a previous occasion due to being confused with another inmate also named Michael Meeks, were denied.

Meeks then filed the present petition for a writ of habeas corpus, contending that (1) he was deprived of a protected liberty interest in earned good-time credits and credit earning class without due process of law because the CAB's decision was not supported by "some evidence," and (2) his rights under the Double Jeopardy Clause were violated when the CAB convicted him of marijuana use following the second disciplinary hearing, after deciding to acquit him of the very same charge at the first hearing. Although expressing concern at the possibility that the urine sample had been mislabeled, the district court determined that Meeks' constitutional rights had not been violated, and denied Meeks' petition. This appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSION

Both parties agree that under Indiana law, state prison inmates have a protected liberty interest in earned good-time credits and in credit earning class, Ind. Code secs. 35P6-3, 35P6-4 (1988), and that the state may not deprive inmates of good-time credits without following constitutionally adequate procedures to insure that the credits are not arbitrarily rescinded. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557 (1974). In Hill, the Supreme Court held that the "revocation of good time does not comport with 'the minimum requirements of procedural due process,' unless the findings of the prison disciplinary board are supported by some evidence in the record." 472 U.S. at 454 (quoting Wolff, 418 U.S. at 558). The Court further explained that, in ascertaining whether this standard has been met, 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. Id. at 455-56. Under this standard, the evidence need not "logically preclude[] any conclusion but the one reached by the disciplinary board." Id. at 457. Indeed, in the context of a prison disciplinary proceeding, due process is satisfied as long as "the record is not so devoid of evidence that the findings of the disciplinary board were without support or otherwise arbitrary." Id.

As this court observed in Viens v. Daniels, 871 F.2d 1328 (7th Cir. 1989), because the "some evidence" standard in Hill does not permit courts to consider the relative weight of the evidence presented to the disciplinary board, it is "general[ly] immaterial that an accused prisoner presented exculpatory evidence unless that evidence directly undercuts the reliability of the evidence on which the disciplinary authority relied" in support of its conclusion. Id. at 1335. Thus, although we do not consider exculpatory evidence merely because it could have supported a different result from that reached by the board, we must nevertheless satisfy ourselves that the evidence the board did rely on presented "sufficient indicia of reliability" to permit us to conclude that its decision to revoke an inmate's good-time credits was not arbitrary. Id.; see also Lenea v. Lane, 882 F.2d 1171, 1176 (7th Cir. 1989); Cato v. Rushen, 824 F.2d 703, 705 (9th Cir. 1987). Moreover, where a prison inmate produces exculpatory evidence that directly undermines the reliability of the evidence in the record pointing to his guilt, he is "entitled to an explanation of why the [disciplinary board] disregarded the exculpatory evidence and refused to find it persuasive." Whitford v. Boglino, 63 F.3d 527, 537 (7th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); see Viens, 871 F.2d at 1335.

In this appeal, Meeks contends that the CAB's decision to revoke his good-time credits and lower his credit earning class for using marijuana violated his right to due process because it was based on unreliable evidence. To substantiate this claim, Meeks first points out that the CAB's decision was based solely on the toxicology report that indicated a positive urine test for the presence of marijuana metabolites. Meeks then directs our attention to two specific instances of unreliable identifying information in the report--the prisoner number, and the fact that his initials are absent from the report. Although the report bears Meeks' name, Meeks has established that he was not the only "Michael Meeks" at Westville at the time this sample was obtained, and that he had been confused with the other Michael Meeks on one previous occasion, resulting in a disciplinary sanction (the denial of telephone privileges) which prison administrators conceded was mistakenly imposed. It is important to note that Meeks does not dispute that he submitted a urine sample on August 17, 1994, the same day as is indicated in the toxicology report, and that M. E. Reeves collected the sample from him on that day. Nor does Meeks dispute the accuracy of the laboratory test results. In other words, Meeks does not challenge the basic facts of the urine test as determined by the CAB--he only contends that this particular urine sample did not belong to him, and points to specific evidence, ...


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