Richards v. Quintana
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: 1) 1 Petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED. 2) Court will enter a judgment w this order. 3) Matter is DISMISSED and STRICKEN from the docket. Signed by Judge Karen K. Caldwell on 9/20/2017.(SCD)cc: Pro Se Petitioner via US Mail
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CENTRAL DIVISION at LEXINGTON
Civil Action No. 5: 17-121-KKC
FRANCISCO QUINTANA, Warden,
*** *** *** ***
Inmate Brandon Richards is confined at the Federal Medical Center in Lexington,
Kentucky. Richards has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2241 challenging the imposition of prison disciplinary sanctions. [R. 1, 4] This
matter is before the Court to conduct an initial screening of Richards’s petition. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2243; Alexander v. Northern Bureau of Prisons, 419 F. App’x 544, 545 (6th Cir. 2011).
On April 3, 2016, officer Hacker conducted a shakedown of the cell shared by Richards
and five other inmates. Inside a vent hole in the bathroom, Hacker found two plastic baggies
which contained about 120 pills of growth hormones. An Incident Report was issued charging
Richards with Possession of Non-Hazardous Contraband, a Code 331 Offense. [R. 4-1 at 2]
A Disciplinary Hearing Officer (“DHO”) held a hearing on April 15, 2016. Richards
denied that the pills belonged to him, but did not present documentary or testimonial evidence
in support of that claim. The DHO found Richards guilty of the disciplinary offense, finding
that the pills were found in a readily-accessible part of his cell and noting that Richards is
responsible for ensuring that his cell remained free of contraband. The DHO imposed various
sanctions, including the disallowance of fourteen days of good conduct time. [R. 4-1 at 3-6]
In his petition, Richards challenges the disciplinary conviction on four grounds. First,
he argues that the vent where the contraband was found is connected to ductwork which, in
turn, is accessible via a common area to which numerous inmates have access.
Richards contends that the vent cover was twelve feet off the ground and hence was not easily
accessible by him. Third, he argues that inmates cannot search vents in their cells, and hence
ensure that they are free from contraband, without violating other prison rules.
Richards contends that notwithstanding his lengthy incarceration, it was improper for the
DHO to assume that he knew or should have known that vents are commonly used to hide
[R. 4 at 5-6]
Richards made none of these assertions before the DHO, but
asserted them in his appeal from the disciplinary conviction.
When a prison disciplinary board takes action that results in the loss of good time
credits in which the prisoner has a vested liberty interest, the Due Process Clause requires
prison officials to observe certain protections for the prisoner. Specifically, the prisoner is
entitled to advanced notice of the charges, the opportunity to present evidence in his or her
defense, whether through live testimony or documents, and a written decision explaining the
grounds used to determine guilt or innocence of the offense. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539,
563-66 (1974). Further, the findings used as a basis to revoke good time credits must be
supported by some evidence in the record. Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985);
Selby v. Caruso, 734 F. 3d 554, 559 (6th Cir. 2013).
Richards does not question the procedures followed to convict him of the disciplinary
offense, but challenges only the DHO’s ultimate conclusion that he was in constructive
possession of the contraband. This Court’s review of whether there was “some evidence” to
support the DHO’s conclusion to that effect is extraordinarily deferential:
whether this standard is satisfied does not require examination of the entire record,
independent assessment of the credibility of witnesses, or weighing of the evidence. Instead,
the 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).
Richards’s first and second arguments challenge the conclusion that he possessed the
contraband by noting that other inmates in common areas might have been able to access the
vent area in his cell through a suspended ceiling, and by asserting that the height of the vent
cover made access from within his cell difficult. But the DHO concluded that Richards was in
possession of the contraband because it was found in his cell, in an area that was easily
accessible to Richards and his cellmates but not to other inmates. He reached this conclusion
based upon both the statement of the reporting officer and his own inspection of the cell. [R. 41 at 4] The DHO therefore had ample factual grounds upon which to conclude that Richards
was in possession of contraband. Cf. Denny v. Shultz, 708 F. 3d 140, 144-147 (3d Cir. 2013)
(“Courts that have considered this question have uniformly held that the discovery of
contraband in a shared cell constitutes ‘some evidence’ of possession sufficient to uphold a
prison disciplinary sanction against each inmate in the cell, including depriving that inmate of
his or her liberty interest in good time credits.”) (collecting cases).
Richards’s third and fourth arguments challenge the DHO’s conclusion that he is
responsible for maintaining his cell free from contraband, arguing that he didn’t have reason
to know that vents are often used by inmates to hide contraband, and that searching the vents
would have violated prison rules. As an initial matter, the inmate’s responsibility to keep his
or her area free of contraband was not merely a conclusion reached by the DHO in this
particular case, it is formally required by regulations applicable to all federal prisoners. 28
C.F.R. § 541.12 (2008); BOP Program Statement 5270.07.
contention is pure supposition, his first strains credibility.
Further, Richards’s second
Finally, the DHO noted that
Richards has occupied the same cell for two years, and thus had every reason to know whether
contraband was present within it. The DHO’s conclusion that Richards was responsible for
the contents of his cell is therefore both mandated by law in all cases and supported by some
evidence in this one.
The Court shares the Third Circuit’s observation that there is some risk in holding
each inmates in a cell accountable for all of its contents. Denny, 708 F. 3d at 147 (“We are not
oblivious to the realities of prison life that might make it difficult or even dangerous for
prisoners in shared cells to be affirmatively responsible for policing the illicit activities of their
cellmates.”). But as that Court correctly noted, such accountability is appropriate to maintain
security in a potentially dangerous environment. Id. (“Nonetheless, the Due Process Clause
requires us to balance a prisoner’s liberty interest in good time credits against the prison’s
interest in maintaining a safe and secure environment.”) (citing Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S.
472, 478 (2005)).
Because prison officials had more than “some evidence” of Richards’s
possession of the pills, imposing disciplinary sanctions was consistent with the requirements
of due process.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED as follows:
Richards’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus [R. 1] is DENIED.
The Court will enter a judgment contemporaneously with this order.
This matter is DISMISSED and STRICKEN from the docket.
Dated September 20, 2017.
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