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Peterson v. Shannon

December 12, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

(Judge Rambo)


Before the court is Petitioner Michael U. Peterson's ("Peterson")petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the revocation of his parole. (Doc. 1.) Peterson asserts that the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole ("Board") relied upon a misconduct decision supported by insufficient evidence to revoke parole. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

I. Background

On July 17, 1996, the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania sentenced Peterson to a term of imprisonment of five to ten years for criminal homicide. (Doc. 11 at 4.) Peterson was released on parole on September 27, 2000, but later violated the conditions of his parole. (Id.) As a result, the Board recommitted him as a technical parole violator on July 9, 2001. (Id.)

On January 31, 2003, the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania sentenced Peterson to an aggregated term of imprisonment of four to eight years for seven counts of manufacture, sale or delivery, or possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, see 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(1). (Id. at 11.) Six months later Peterson was recommitted as a convicted parole violator. (Id. at 9.)

On February 17, 2005, Peterson was constructively paroled from his criminal homicide sentence, but remained incarcerated pursuant to a state detainer for his drug convictions. (Id. at 16.) One of the conditions of Peterson's parole was that he was to "abide by the rules and regulations of the institution." (Id. at 18.)

At the time of his constructive parole, Peterson was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Greensburg, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Greensburg"). On April 11, 2005, a SCI-Greensburg corrections officer ordered two officers to search cell A-11, which was occupied by inmate Donald Bound. (Id.) During the search, the officers found "approximately 2.7 grams of white and yellow tablets of suspected steroids." (Id.) Inmate Bound admitted that the tablets were steroids, and upon investigation four confidential informants testified that the steroids were purchased from Peterson. (Id.) On May 10, 2005, Peterson was issued a misconduct report for his involvement in the distribution of steroids. (Id.)

A hearing examiner conducted a prison disciplinary hearing on May 17, 2005. (See id. at 21--22.) Peterson was found guilty of possessing contraband and received sixty days of disciplinary custody. (Id.) Further, in a decision dated September 1, 2005, the Board concluded that Peterson had violated a condition of his parole (failure to abide by the rules and regulations of the institution), recommitted Peterson as a technical parole violator, and ordered him to serve nine months of back time. (Id. at 42.) In its decision the Board relied upon Peterson's admission, a parole agent's testimony, and the misconduct report. (Id.) Peterson was also advised of his right to appeal the decision. (Id.)

Peterson did not file a petition for administrative review with the Board or appeal the Board's decision to the Commonwealth Court. Rather, on May 17, 2005, he appealed the hearing examiner's decision to SCI-Greensburg's program review committee, arguing, inter alia, that the hearing procedures were improper and the evidence was insufficient to support the decision. (Id. at 43.) The program review committee sustained the guilty decision, (id. at 44), and Peterson appealed to SCIGreensburg's superintendent, D.J. Wakefield, (id. at 46). Superintendent Wakefield also sustained the guilty decision, finding no evidence of improper hearing procedures. (Id.) Peterson appealed Superintendent Wakefield's decision to the chief hearing examiner. (Id. at 47--48.) The chief hearing examiner upheld the guilty decision in a response dated June 20, 2005, finding that proper procedures were followed at Peterson's misconduct hearing. (Id. at 49.) The chief hearing examiner also found the evidence presented, such as the testimony from the four confidential informants, sufficient to support the decision. (Id.)

Following the chief hearing examiner's denial of his appeal, Peterson filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in this court. See Peterson v. Lt. Bussard, et al., No. 1:05-cv-02416 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 21, 2005). In that complaint, Peterson claimed that the defendants, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC") officials, violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights when he was placed in disciplinary custody without proper notice and without an opportunity to be heard. He further alleged that, as a result of the defective misconduct hearing, the Board sanctioned him with revocation of his constructive parole and imposition of nine months of back time. The defendants in that case filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted on October 23, 2006. (Id. at Doc. 14.) The court found that, while Peterson had identified a liberty interest since his sanction included parole revocation and nine months back time, the record reflected that he was afforded the full requirements of due process in his disciplinary hearing. The court further found that there was sufficient evidence to support the outcome of the hearing. As a result, the court granted the motion to dismiss.

Prior to the court's disposition of the motion to dismiss Peterson's § 1983 complaint, Peterson filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. 1.) His petition, while somewhat unclear, appears to challenge both the outcome of his disciplinary hearing and the Board's decision to revoke his constructive parole and impose back time. In their response to the petition, Respondents address both challenges.

II. Discussion

Respondents contend that the instant petition must be dismissed for failure to exhaust state court remedies. In the alternative, they argue ...

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