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Montana v. Watson

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 30, 2017

DARWIN MONTANA, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, TOM WATSON Respondent.[1]

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          HERNDON, United States District Judge.

         Darwin Montana (Petitioner), a federal inmate, filed a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. He challenges a disciplinary ruling that found him guilty of possessing a weapon and resulted in the loss of good-conduct credit.

         Relevant Facts and Procedural History

         In 2012, a correctional officer at United States Prison (USP) Big Sandy conducted a search of Petitioner's cell that he shared with another inmate. The search returned a five-inch piece of metal, sharpened to a point, which the officer recovered from Petitioner's secured locker. The officer charged Petitioner with possessing a weapon, in violation of Code 104, see 28 C.F.R. § 541.3. (Doc. 10, Ex. 2, pp. 1-2).

         A disciplinary hearing took place in November 2012, at which Petitioner called no witnesses and exercised his right to remain silent. According to the Discipline Hearing Officer Report (Doc. 10, Ex. 2), the officer who conducted the hearing (the DHO)

considered the report submitted by [an officer] which describes his eyewitness account to the incident, in which [the officer] found the homemade weapon in [Petitioner's] cell during a routine cell search. The DHO considered the photographic evidence in the form of photographs of the weapon found, as well as the Chain of Custody Log for the aforementioned weapon. The DHO also considered [Petitioner's] silence. The DHO interpreted [Petitioner's] posture of no defense to the charges to mean [Petitioner] had neither an interest nor viable evidence in which to refute the charge.

         The DHO found Petitioner guilty of possessing a weapon and sanctioned Petitioner thirty days of disciplinary segregation, a thirty-day loss of commissary privileges, and a loss of forty-one days of good conduct time. (Doc. 10, Ex. 2, pp. 1-3).

         Petitioner exhausted his administrative remedies, see Doc. 10, pp. 3-4, and filed a § 2241 petition in this Court, Doc. 1.

         Grounds for Relief

         In his § 2241, Petitioner argues there is insufficient evidence to support the DHO's decision. He principally argues the DHO failed to establish Petitioner had possession of the weapon because his cellmate also had access to the area. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Petitioner also asserts the DHO should have interviewed his cellmate; the locker in which the weapon was located was not actually his; and the DHO drew improper inferences from Petitioner's silence. (Doc. 12).

         Analysis

         Federal prisoners have a liberty interest in earned good-time credit and, therefore, the revocation of good-time credit must comport with due process requirements. Jones v. Cross, 637 F.3d 841, 845 (7th Cir. 2011). However, prisoners do not enjoy all of the procedural and evidentiary rules of a criminal or civil trial, and institutional needs may curb inmates' due process rights. Lenea v. Lane, 882 F.2d 1171, 1174 (7th Cir. 1989).

         On review, this Court does not examine the entire record, make credibility assessments, or reweigh the evidence. Id. at 1175. Instead, the relevant question is whether “some evidence in the record” supports the disciplinary board's conclusion. Hamilton v. O'Leary, 976 F.2d 341, 344-45 (7th Cir. 1992). To determine whether “some evidence” supports the determination, the Court can look only to the evidence available during the administrative process. Id. at 345-46.

         As a preliminary matter, the Incident Report, located at Doc. 10, Ex. 2, pp. 25-26, provides that Petitioner admitted ownership of the weapon. This far exceeds the “some evidence” standard needed to uphold the DHO's ...


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