Stephens v. Superintendent
OPINION AND ORDER: DENYING 1 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, filed by Sanchez Stephens. Signed by Chief Judge Philip P Simon on 12/11/2015. (lhc)(cc: Stephens)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
FORT WAYNE DIVISION
CAUSE NO. 1:14-CV-309
OPINION AND ORDER
Sanchez Stephens, a pro se prisoner, filed a petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254
challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding. (DE 1.) A hearing officer at Miami
Correctional Facility found Stephens guilty of Class B offense 212, assault and battery.
(DE 1 at 5.) The hearing officer imposed sanctions including a loss of 90 days of earned
credit time, and a demotion from credit class 1 to credit class 2. (DE 1 at 1.)
The charges were initiated on June 26, 2014, when Lieutenant Stoll prepared a
Report of Conduct, which stated:
On 06/26/2014 Lt. Stoll and Caseworker Mrs. Turner completed our
Investigation/Identification of an assault that took place on 06/19/2014 in
NHU 437/438. It has been determined that Ofd. Stephens, Sanchez 121107
was involved in this assault. This offender was identified and seen via
DVR entering cell N437/438 [at] 1331 and leaving the cell at
approximately 1333. Offender Booth, Tony 243267 that is assigned to cell
N437/438 was observed at the door way shortly after wiping/patting the
right side of his face. This being the same location of a laceration that
required several stitches.
(DE 1 at 5.)
On June 30, 2014, Stephens was notified of the charge and his rights when he was
served with the conduct report and the notice of disciplinary hearing. (DE 6-2.)
Stephens pleaded not guilty, requested the assistance of a lay advocate, requested to call
Offenders Tony Booth and Gary Davis as witnesses, and requested video of the incident
as physical evidence. (Id.)
A hearing officer conducted the disciplinary hearing on July 18, 2014. (DE 6-3.)
Stephens provided the following statement, ”I was around when that stuff happened
but I didn’t battery anyone. The camera doesn’t show me touching anyone.” (Id.)
Offender R. Hudson served as Stephen’s lay advocate. Offenders Booth and Davis both
provided a witness statement of, “No comment.” (DE 6-3 at 3, 4.) Stephens was not
permitted to view the video due to safety and security concerns. Instead, he was
provided the following summary of the video:
On 6/19/2014 at 1331 several offenders are seen going into cell 437/438.
There are shadow movements on the wall but due to the positioning of the
camera, you can’t see directly into the cell. One of the offenders exiting
was identified as ofd Stephens. Ofd Booth was observed at approximately
1333 standing in the door way wiping and patting the right side of his
(DE 6-3 at 5.)
The hearing officer, relying on staff reports, Stephens’s statement, evidence from
witnesses, and video of the incident, found Stephens guilty of assault. (DE 6-3 at 1.)
Stephens’s appeals were denied and this petition followed. (DE 6-5.)
When prisoners lose earned time credits in a prison disciplinary hearing, they are
entitled to certain protections under the Due Process Clause: (1) advance written notice
of the charges; (2) an opportunity to be heard before an impartial decision maker; (3) an
opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in defense when
consistent with institutional safety and correctional goals; and (4) a written statement by
a fact finder of evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action. Wolff v.
McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563 (1974). To satisfy due process, there must also be “some
evidence” to support the hearing officer’s decision. Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v.
Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985).
Here, Stephens raises four grounds for relief in his petition: (1) there was no
physical evidence that he committed the battery; (2) the video evidence was
inconclusive; (3) the conduct report is based on speculation; and (4) he was charged
with the wrong conduct code. It is apparent that the first three grounds all challenge the
sufficiency of the evidence.
In reviewing a disciplinary determination for sufficiency of the evidence, “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.”
McPherson v. McBride, 188 F.3d 784, 786 (7th Cir. 1999). “[T]he relevant question is
whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached
by the disciplinary board.” Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56 (emphasis added). The court will
overturn a guilty finding only if “no reasonable adjudicator could have found [the
prisoner] guilty of the offense on the basis of the evidence presented.” Henderson v.
United States Parole Comm’n, 13 F.3d 1073, 1077 (7th Cir. 1994). Furthermore, a hearing
officer is permitted to rely on circumstantial evidence to establish guilt. See Hamilton v.
O’Leary, 976 F.2d 341, 345 (7th Cir. 1992).
While the evidence in this case may not be conclusive, it does not have to be.
Upon review, there is sufficient evidence to support the hearing officer’s determination
that Stephens was guilty of assault. In fact, this case bears an indistinguishable
resemblance to the facts of Hill. There, a prison guard heard some commotion in a
nearby walkway. Hill, 472 U.S. at 447-48. Upon entering the walkway, the guard saw
three inmates running in the opposite direction and one inmate with a bleeding and
swollen face. Id. No other inmates were in the area. Id. Despite this, the beaten inmate
still denied the three other inmates had beaten him up, and all three stated they were
innocent at their hearing with the disciplinary board. Id. Even so, the Supreme Court
found that although “the evidence in this case might be characterized as meager, and
there was no direct evidence identifying any one of the three inmates as the assailant,”
there was sufficient evidence for the men to lose their earned-credit time because “[t]he
Federal Constitution does not require evidence that logically precludes any conclusion
but the one reached by the disciplinary board.” Id. 457. In other words, so long as some
evidence supports one of the possible outcomes, the disciplinary board’s decision
should be upheld.
Here, the conduct report establishes that Stephens and two other offenders
entered Offender Booth’s cell, left after two minutes, and moments later Offender Booth
exited the cell wiping at a laceration on his face. (DE 6-1 at 1.) Stephens admits being in
the cell when Offender Booth was assaulted. (DE 6-3 at 1.) Though Stephens denies
being the person who battered Offender Booth, he did not identify any other
perpetrator during the disciplinary hearing who was responsible for the offense or
provide any other exculpatory evidence. Booth’s response to all of this was simply “no
comment” – in other words, he neither confirmed Stephens beat him, nor denied that he
did. (DE 6-3 at 3.) Just as in Hill, the evidence shows that Stephens exited Booth’s cell
just before Booth emerged with what appeared to be a fresh laceration on his face.
There’s no question that under Hill, that is sufficient evidence to support the
disciplinary board’s decision.
Further, the hearing officer was not required to credit Stephens’s denials, nor
was he “required to show culpability beyond a reasonable doubt.” Moffat v. Broyles, 288
F.3d 978, 981 (7th Cir. 2002). To the extent Stephens is asking this Court to make its own
determination of guilt or innocence, that is not the Court’s role. See Hill, 472 U.S. at 455.
Instead, the question is whether there is some evidence to support the hearing officer’s
determination, and because the record contains such evidence, habeas relief is not
Next, Stephens complains that he should have been charged with Class C offense
372 for fighting instead of a Class B offense 212 for assault/battery. Stephens states that
this was not simply one man intending to hurt the other but, instead, this was a scenario
where both men were attempting to injure the other. (DE 1 at 2.) Apparently, Stephens
thinks that an assault/battery has to be a one-way activity and that it cannot be done by
two people to each other. This is incorrect. Two people can assault/batter each other at
the same time.
Moreover, Stephens’s alleged confusion about whether fighting can constitute
assault does not amount to a due process violation. Due process requires a regulation to
be sufficiently definite to give people of ordinary intelligence notice of the conduct it
prohibits. United States v. Turcotte, 405 F.3d 515, 531 (7th Cir. 2005). The regulation
Stephens was found guilty of states that it is an offense to “commit a battery/assault
upon another person without a weapon or inflicting bodily injury.” (DE 6-6 at 2.) This
regulation is reasonably clear and an inmate of ordinary intelligence would know that
engaging in a fight -any fight- with another inmate is sanctionable under B212. The
Conduct Report, the video and Stephens’s own statement all work to allow the hearing
officer to reasonably infer that Stephens assaulted the other inmate. That’s more than
sufficient evidence to have found him guilty of assault/battery under B212.
For the reasons set forth above, the petition (DE 1) is DENIED.
ENTERED: December 11, 2015
s/Philip P. Simon
United States District Court
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