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Castillo v. Johnson

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 13, 2013

ARNOLD CASTILLO, # R-48852, Plaintiff,
v.
YOLANDA JOHNSON, DAVID MITCHELL, and RICARDO TEJEDA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Pontiac Correctional Center ("Pontiac"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is serving three 15-year sentences for attempted murder, aggravated battery, and aggravated discharge of a firearm, as well as a seven-year sentence for aggravated battery of a peace officer. Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his constitutional rights in connection with a disciplinary report issued against him while he was confined at Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") and the subsequent disciplinary hearing which was held at Tamms Correctional Center ("Tamms") after Plaintiff was transferred to that institution.

In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that "following a violent assault on an officer" on January 11, 2010, Plaintiff was summoned to an interview where he was read his Miranda rights (Doc. 1, p. 6). He chose to remain silent. He was soon transferred to Tamms.

On March 26, 2010, Plaintiff was served with a disciplinary ticket issued by Defendant Tejeda (of Stateville Internal Affairs). Plaintiff was charged with violent assault (stabbing an officer), dangerous contraband (a silver object used in the assault), dangerous disturbance, impeding or interfering with an investigation, intimidation or threats, and unauthorized movement, all in connection with the January 11 attack (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 9, 16-17). In this complaint, Plaintiff takes issue only with the charge of impeding or interfering with an investigation, arguing that this charge was improperly brought in retaliation for his exercise of his constitutional right to remain silent. He notes that the disciplinary ticket later resulted in his criminal prosecution for the assault on the officer (Doc. 1, p. 5).[1]

The hearing on Plaintiff's disciplinary charges was held on March 29, 2010, with Defendant Mitchell chairing the hearing panel (Doc. 1, pp. 9-11). Plaintiff submitted a written statement, requested several witnesses to be called, requested staff assistance to prepare his defense, and requested a continuance of the hearing to allow him to collect evidence and testimony (Doc. 1, p. 6). These requests were denied by Defendant Mitchell. Plaintiff was found guilty of all the charges and was disciplined with placement in indeterminate segregation, the loss of one year of good-conduct credit, a one-year demotion to C-grade, and several other sanctions (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 11). Defendant Johnson (Tamms Warden) approved the disciplinary action.

As relief, Plaintiff requests that the disciplinary charge of "impeding or interfering with an investigation be ruled unconstitutional where Miranda warning is read or when it is probable that criminal prosecution is possible" (Doc. 1, p. 8). He further requests money damages.

Plaintiff attaches as exhibits the Offender Disciplinary Report issued by Defendant Tejeda (Doc. 1, pp. 16-17), and the Final Summary Report issued by the adjustment committee that conducted the hearing and found Plaintiff guilty of the disciplinary charges (Doc. 1, pp. 9-11). These reports detail the evidence considered by the committee, which included statements of ten confidential sources (inmates), several of whom directly observed Plaintiff attacking the correctional officer (Williams). Before the attack, C/O Williams had sent a radio request for help because he saw Plaintiff with a weapon (Doc. 1, pp. 10, 16). The officer who responded to C/O Williams' call found him near Plaintiff's cell, bleeding from his wounds. C/O Williams stated that Plaintiff was his assailant, and the report documents that he suffered 25 puncture wounds when Plaintiff struck him repeatedly with a silver object.

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant. After fully considering the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint, the Court concludes that this action is subject to summary dismissal.

Plaintiff claims that the disciplinary charge for "impeding or interfering with an investigation" was brought by Defendant Tejeda in retaliation for his decision to exercise his right to remain silent rather than answer investigators' questions about the January 11 assault on C/O Williams. However, Plaintiff was also written up for several more serious infractions for this assault. The impeding/interfering charge was only one of six charges, and must be viewed in the larger context of these allegations (Doc. 1, p. 9).

A false and unjustified disciplinary charge that is brought against a prisoner in retaliation for the prisoner's exercise of a constitutional right may amount to a violation of his due process rights. Black v. Lane, 22 F.3d 1395, 1402 (7th Cir. 1994) (after inmate successfully pursued a complaint over racial discrimination, he stated a claim for retaliation when he later incurred false disciplinary charges that had no evidentiary support). However, in Plaintiff's case, the charge that he refused to provide relevant information was not false - Plaintiff himself asserts that he chose to remain silent rather than answer the investigator's questions once he was warned that any statements might be used against him in a criminal prosecution. Of course, there might have been no basis to bring the "impeding/interfering with an investigation" charge if Plaintiff had instead chosen to break his silence. But his claim that this charge was filed in retaliation for his choice not to answer questions leads to a circular argument, when Plaintiff's silence is itself the basis for the charge.

Importantly, the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, which is made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the government from using a person's assertion of the right to silence against him in a criminal proceeding. [2] Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 316-17 (1976); Lefkowitz v. Turley, 414 U.S. 70, 77 (1973) (right to silence may be asserted in a civil or other proceeding where a statement might incriminate the person in a future criminal prosecution). In contrast, the invocation of the right to remain silent may be used to draw an adverse inference in a non-criminal proceeding. Baxter, 425 U.S. at 319-20.

A prison disciplinary proceeding is not a criminal trial and is subject to different procedural rules. Baxter, 425 U.S. at 316; Lenea v. Lane, 882 F.2d 1171, 1173-74 (7th Cir. 1989). Inmates retain certain due process rights in the context of a disciplinary proceeding, but their rights are "circumscribed by the necessary mutual accommodation between [prison] institutional needs and objectives and the provisions of the Constitution that are of general application.'" Baxter, 425 U.S. at 321 (quoting Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974)). Thus, the Supreme Court found in Baxter that state officials did not violate a prisoner's constitutional rights when they drew an inference of guilt from the inmate's silence at his disciplinary hearing, so long as there was other substantial evidence to sustain the guilty finding. Baxter, 425 U.S. at 316-20. See also Nat'l Acceptance Co. of Am. v. Bathalter, 705 F.2d 924, 929 (7th Cir. 1983) ("After Baxter there is no longer any doubt that at trial a civil defendant's silence may be used against him, even if that silence is an exercise of his constitutional privilege against self-incrimination."). In light of this precedent, Plaintiff cannot expect that he would be free of all adverse consequences (outside the context of a true criminal prosecution) that might result from his choice to remain silent during the investigation of the assault.

Taken in the context of the other serious disciplinary charges against Plaintiff and the substantial, indeed overwhelming, evidence of his guilt of the violent assault, possession of dangerous contraband, and other offenses, the guilty finding on the impeding/refusal to provide information charge did not violate Plaintiff's due process rights. The ruling of the adjustment committee does not allocate any part of Plaintiff's punishment to one or the other of the six infractions. Instead, the disciplinary sanctions were imposed based on the combined guilty findings on all six charges. It is hard to imagine that Plaintiff's punishment would have been any lighter if he had been found guilty only of the violent ...


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