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Sanchez v. Martinez

November 6, 2009


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

(Judge Rambo)


Before the court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, filed by petitioner Alfonso Sanchez ("Sanchez"), an inmate currently incarcerated at the Low Security Correctional Institution at Allenwood ("LSCIAllenwood") in White Deer, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) Sanchez alleges that his constitutional rights were violated in the context of a disciplinary hearing. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

I. Background

On July 26, 2007, at 9:45 a.m., during a shake down of cell 202 in Unit 3B of LSCI-Allenwood, Senior Officer R. Arnold discovered a homemade tattoo needle under the lid of a resealed laundry detergent box next to Sanchez's locker. (Doc. 8-2 at 6-8, Incident Report.) When Officer Arnold returned to his office, Sanchez approached him and stated, "That is mine, it is a tattoo needle, there is no need to get my cell mate involved, it is mine." (Doc. 8-2 at 6.)

On July 27, 2007, an incident report was delivered to Sanchez charging him with "possession, manufacture, or introduction of a hazardous tool" in violation of Section 108 of the Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") disciplinary code. (Id. at 6-8.) An investigation was conducted on that same day. (Id. at 7.) On July 30, 2007, the Unit Disciplinary Committee ("UDC") held a hearing to review the incident report. (Id. at 6-7.) At that time, Sanchez stated that the tattoo needle "is mine, I had it for a long time." (Id. at 6.) After reviewing the matter, the UDC referred it to the Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO") for a further hearing. (Id. at 9-10, Notice of Disciplinary Hearing Before DHO.) Subsequently, on July 30, 2007, Sanchez signed an advisement of rights form, indicating that he understood his rights. (Id. at 10.) He also requested staff representation. (Id. at 9.)

A hearing was held on August 9, 2007. (Id. at 3-5, DHO Report.) At the hearing Sanchez was informed that his requested staff representative, Chaplain Beadle, declined or could not appear. (Id. at 3.) Sanchez was given the option to postpone the hearing in order to obtain another representative, but instead he elected to waive his right to staff representation and proceed with the hearing. (Id.) No procedural irregularities occurred and Sanchez presented no documentary evidence. (Id.) The DHO did review a photograph of the needle and the laundry detergent box. (Id. at 4.) Sanchez also provided the following statement, as noted by the DHO, "I had the tattoo needle for a while. I brought it with me from Ray Brook." (Id. at 3.)

After the hearing, the DHO issued a decision, dated August 14, 2007, in which he found credible the information provided by the staff members involved in this case, as they derived no known benefit by providing false information and by virtue of their position, are obligated to be truthful. The DHO reviewed the photograph and identified the needle as the type commonly used by the inmate population to do tattoos on other inmates. The DHO also noted Sanchez' admission that the tattoo needle was his. The DHO finds the charge to be substantiated based on some evidence and Sanchez' admission. (Id. at 4.) The DHO concluded that the "greater weight of the evidence/some facts" supported the finding that Sanchez had been in possession of a hazardous tool in violation of Code 108. (Id.) Sanchez was sanctioned with forty-five (45) days of disciplinary segregation, disallowance of forty (40) days of good conduct time, and loss of commissary privileges for six (6) months. (Id. at 5.)

On August 29, 2007, Sanchez filed a request for administrative remedy with the Northeast Regional Office, appealing the DHO's August 14, 2007 decision. (Doc. 8-2 at 13.) In his appeal, Sanchez stated that this was his first incident report and that the sanctions imposed were too harsh. (Doc. 2-2 at 2.) He sought to have his commissary privileges restored. (Id.) The Northeast Regional Office denied Sanchez's appeal on September 28, 2007. (Id.) In that response, the Regional Director noted that DHO decision was based on the greater weight of the evidence and was consistent with the severity level of the prohibited act. (Id.) The Regional Director also noted that the sanctions imposed were not disproportionate to Sanchez's misconduct. (Id.) In addition, the Regional Director advised Sanchez that if he was dissatisfied with the response, he could appeal to the BOP's General Counsel. (Id.) In his traverse, Sanchez asserts that he did file an appeal with the General Counsel, but has received no response.*fn1 (Doc. 9 at 1.)

Following his administrative appeals, Sanchez filed the instant petition challenging the sufficiency of the evidence relied upon by the DHO and the severity of the imposed sanctions. (Doc. 1.)

II. Discussion

The BOP disciplinary process is fully outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 28, Sections 541.10 through 541.23. These regulations dictate the manner in which disciplinary action may be taken should a prisoner violate, or attempt to violate, institutional rules. The first step requires filing an incident report and conducting an investigation pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 541.14. Staff is required to conduct the investigation promptly absent intervening circumstances beyond the control of the investigator. 28 C.F.R. § 541.14(b).

Following the investigation, the matter is then referred to the UDC for a hearing pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 541.15. If the UDC finds that a prisoner has committed a prohibited act, it may impose minor sanctions. If the alleged violation is serious and warrants consideration for more than minor sanctions, or involves a prohibited act listed in the greatest or high category offenses, the UDC refers the matter to a DHO for a hearing. 28 C.F.R. § 541.15. Because Sanchez was charged with an offense in the greatest severity category, the matter was referred for a disciplinary hearing.

Greatest category offenses carry a possible sanction of loss of good conduct time credits, inter alia. 28 C.F.R. ยง 541.13. When a prison disciplinary hearing may result in the loss of good conduct time credits, due process requires that the prisoner receive (1) written notice of the claimed violation at least twenty-four (24) hours in advance of the hearing, (2) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his or her defense when doing so would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals, and (3) a written ...

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