Stafford v. Superintendent
OPINION AND ORDER: DENYING 1 PETITION for Writ of Habeas Corpus. DIRECTING the clerk to enter judgment accordingly. Signed by Judge Robert L Miller, Jr on 9/11/2017. (Copy mailed to pro se party)(lhc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
SOUTH BEND DIVISION
JAMES BLAIR STAFFORD,
CAUSE NO. 3:17-CV-233-RLM-MGG
OPINION AND ORDER
James Blair Stafford, a prisoner without an attorney, filed a habeas corpus
petition challenging the prison disciplinary hearing (IYC 16-09-11) in which a
disciplinary hearing officer found him guilty of possession of a cellular device in
violation of Indiana Department of Correction policy A-121. On administrative
appeal, Mr. Stafford’s charge was amended to conspiracy to possess a cellular
device in violation of IDOC A-111/A-121. Mr. Stafford lost 120 days earned credit
time and was demoted from Credit Class 1 to Credit Class 2.
Mr. Stafford argues that the hearing officer didn’t have sufficient evidence
to find him guilty. In the disciplinary context, “the relevant question is whether
there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by
the disciplinary board.” Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455-456 (1985). “In
reviewing a decision for some 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) (quotation marks omitted).
[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 ellipsis omitted).
The Department of Correction defines offense A-111 as, “[a]ttempting or
conspiring or aiding and abetting with another to commit any Class A offense.”
Adult Disciplinary Process, Appendix I. http://www.in.gov/idoc/files/02-04101_APPENDIX_I-OFFENSES_6-1-2015(1).pdf. The Department of Correction
defines offense A-121 as, “[u]nauthorized use or possession of any cellular
telephone or other wireless or cellular communications device.” Id. The conduct
report charged Mr. Stafford as follows:
On 9/8/16 I S. Puckett Found that offender Stafford #966294 has an
active Facebook page under the name James Droffats. Stafford posted
two pictures that was either taken at Housing unit West or Central
in one of the rooms. As offenders do not have access to cameras or
cell phones this had to have been done with a Cell phone.
The hearing officer had sufficient evidence to find Mr. Stafford guilty of
violating IDOC A-111/A-121. The pseudonym “James Droffats” is Petitioner James
Stafford’s last name spelled backwards. The hearing officer considered
photographs from the Facebook page, which included photographs of Mr. Stafford.
The Facebook page was updated and had photographs added in July 2016, while
Mr. Stafford was incarcerated at the Plainfield Correctional Facility. The
photographs are close-up images of Mr. Stafford’s back. Mr. Stafford contends
that “[t]here is absolutely ‘NO’ evidence a phone was present in this photograph.”
This is untrue. The photographs are some evidence that a phone was present.
Given (1) the observations of the reporting officer that the photographs were taken
inside a cell in the prison; (2) Mr. Stafford’s admission that the photographs were
of his back; and (3) that the photographs were posted on Facebook while Mr.
Stafford was incarcerated at Plainfield Correctional Facility, it wasn’t arbitrary for
the hearing officer to have concluded that the photographs were taken using a cell
phone. Thus, Mr. Stafford is not entitled to habeas corpus relief based on the
sufficiency of the evidence.
Mr. Stafford also argues that his rights were violated when his charge was
amended on administrative appeal without a new hearing. Prisoners are entitled
to notice of the basis of the charges against them, as well as a hearing in which
to defend themselves. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 564 (1974). These
requirements are satisfied even if the charge is amended during, or even after, the
disciplinary hearing, so long as the underlying factual basis of the original charge
was adequate to give the prisoner notice of the allegations against him, and the
defense to the amended charge would be the same as the defense to the original
charge. Northern v. Hanks, 326 F.3d 909, 910 (7th Cir.2003); Portee v. Vannatta,
105 F. App’x 855, 856 (7th Cir. 2004). Here, the same factual allegations were
used to support the finding of guilt for the A-111/A-121 conspiracy charge as
were used in the original A-121 charge. While Mr. Stafford argues that his
defenses to the two charges “are completely different,” he doesn’t explain how the
defenses are different. In fact, Mr. Stafford’s petition belies his claim. He defended
the A-121 charge on the basis that his back was photographed, so he couldn’t
have been the person holding the phone. He also argued that there is no evidence
that the photograph was taken by a cell phone. He makes the same arguments in
his petition seeking habeas corpus. Because the two charges relied on the same
factual allegations and involved the same defenses, Mr. Stafford isn’t entitled to
habeas corpus relief.
For these reasons, the court DENIES the petition (ECF 1). The clerk is
DIRECTED to enter judgment accordingly.
ENTERED: September 11 , 2017.
/s/ Robert L. Miller, Jr.
United States District Court
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