Thomas v Superintendent
OPINION AND ORDER. The habeas corpus petition is DENIED and the clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment and close this case. ***Civil Case Terminated. Signed by Judge Jon E DeGuilio on 3/9/17. (Copy mailed to pro se party)(jld)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
Cause No. 3:16-CV-088 JD
OPINION AND ORDER
Victor Thomas, a pro se prisoner, filed a habeas corpus petition challenging the prison
disciplinary hearing (WCC 15-07-217) that was held at the Westville Correctional Facility on July
20, 2015. The Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) found him guilty of Assault/Battery in violation
of B-212 and sanctioned him with the loss of 30 days earned credit time. In the petition, Thomas
raises four grounds and the case is now fully briefed.
In Ground One, Thomas argues that he was not assigned an effective lay advocate. The
Respondent argues that Thomas did not raise this issue during his administrative appeals and it is
therefore procedurally defaulted. Thomas argues that he did not raise this argument sooner because
he “was not well versed in the law, nor Indiana Department of Corrections policies and
procedures.” DE 15 at 2. However, “it is well established in this Circuit that circumstances such
as youth, lack of education, and illiteracy are not external impediments within the context of
excusing procedural default.” Harris v. McAdory, 334 F.3d 665, 669 (7th Cir. 2003). Indeed,
Harris went on to hold that neither mental retardation, mental deficiencies, nor mental illness
demonstrate cause to excuse procedural default. Therefore, Thomas’ ignorance of the law does not
excuse procedural default. Nevertheless, even if it could, Thomas did not have a Constitutional
right to a lay advocate. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 570 (1974) (Lay advocate only
required when the inmate is illiterate or the issues are complex.). See also Miller v. Duckworth,
963 F.2d 1002 (7th Cir. 1992) and Wilson-El v. Finnan, 263 Fed. Appx. 503 (7th Cir. 2008). Here,
Thomas states that he “is not illiterate . . ..” DE 1 at 4. Neither was this a complex case. He was
charged with Assault/Battery because he was seen dragging another inmate into a cell. He admits
that he was moving the inmate who was on the floor, but argues that he was trying to help, not hurt
him. Ultimately the DHO did not believe Thomas, but that does not mean that this case was too
complex for him to have defended it on his own.
In Ground Two, Thomas argues that the officer did not call for assistance nor mention that
Thomas injured the other inmate in any way. In Ground Three, he argues that the report does not
mention whether the victim was tested for drugs. In Ground Four, he argues that prison officials
had an obligation to investigate what happened. All of these grounds are different ways of arguing
that there was not sufficient evidence to have found him guilty.
Thomas believes that if his contact with the other inmate was not so violent that the guard
felt the need to summon additional guards, then he cannot be guilty. He believes that if the other
inmate was not injured, then he cannot be found guilty. However, neither extreme violence nor
injury were required to find him guilty of this offense. Battery is defined as “[t]he nonconsensual
touching of, or use of force against, the body of another with the intent to cause harmful or
offensive contact.” Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014). Thus, the absence of an injury did not
preclude finding Thomas guilty.
Thomas argues that he was trying to help the other inmate to his bed because he was
intoxicated. He argues that the guard and the hearing officer misunderstood why he was dragging
the inmate into a cell. He argues that they should not have concluded that he was trying to harm
that inmate. The hearing officer understood what Thomas was saying. The Hearing Report includes
this summary of Thomas’ statement at the hearing: “The guy was on the floor drooling. I was
trying to help him to his bed. I asked the officer for help. I did not assault him.” DE 1-1 at 3.
Thomas’ explanation is plausible and he might not have intended to harm the other inmate by
dragging him into a cell. However, that is not what the DHO concluded.
[T]he findings of a prison disciplinary board [need only] have the support of some
evidence in the record. This is a lenient standard, requiring no more than a modicum
of evidence. Even meager proof will suffice, so long as the record is not so devoid
of evidence that the findings of the disciplinary board were without support or
otherwise arbitrary. Although some evidence is not much, it still must point to the
accused’s guilt. It is not our province to assess the comparative weight of the
evidence underlying the disciplinary board’s decision.
Webb v. Anderson, 224 F.3d 649, 652 (7th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks, citations, parenthesis, and
Thomas argues that the DHO was required to apply a preponderance of the evidence
standard. That may be true, but he cannot obtain habeas corpus relief unless he can demonstrate
that there was not some evidence or that the decision of the DHO was arbitrary. It is plausible that
Thomas did not intend to harm the other inmate. However it is not for this court to re-weigh the
evidence nor judge the credibility of Thomas’ statements. Thomas argues that “[t]his case is based
around a sealed document which could prove the Petitioner’s innocence . . ..” That sealed
document is the “confidential offender witness statement from victim.” DE 1-1 at 3. That statement
was submitted to this court under seal and has been reviewed. It does not exonerate Thomas. Given
the evidence in the record, it was not arbitrary to have found Thomas guilty of Assault/Battery.
For these reasons, the habeas corpus petition is DENIED. The clerk is DIRECTED to
enter judgment and close this case.
ENTERED: March 9, 2017
/s/ JON E. DEGUILIO
United States District Judge
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