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David Edward Stevens v. B.A. Bledsoe

April 13, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Rambo)


Presently before the court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus (Doc. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, filed by Petitioner David Edward Stevens ("Stevens"), an inmate confined at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ("USP-Lewisburg"). Stevens alleges that his constitutional rights were violated in the context of a disciplinary proceeding. For the reasons that follow, the petition will be denied.

I. Facts

At all times relevant to this petition, Stevens was confined at the United States Penitentiary at Big Sandy ("USP-Big Sandy") in Inez, Kentucky. On April 22, 2009, at approximately 2:30 p.m., while Senior Officer Blankenship was performing a two-hour restraint check of Stevens, Stevens kicked him with his left foot, striking Officer Blankenship's right outer thigh. (Doc. 6-1 at 35.) As Officer Blankenship and other staff members exited the cell, Stevens spit towards staff, hitting Officer Blankenship on his right arm. (Id.) Officer Blankenship stated that Lieutenant Snyder was aware of the incident, and that a medical assessment was performed. (Id.)

As a result of this incident, an investigation was conducted, beginning at 12:30 a.m. on April 23, 2009, and concluding at 12:46 a.m. (Id. at 35.) Further, Stevens was issued an incident report charging him with Assaulting Any Person in violation of Section 224 of the Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") disciplinary code. (Id.) The incident report was delivered to Stevens at 12:30 a.m. on April 23, 2009. (Id.) The investigating officer, Lieutenant J. Gilman, advised Stevens of his rights at that time. (Id.) The officer noted that Stevens "began cursing and yelling upon my entry of his cell. I read the incident report to him as well as his rights. The entire time, Stevens was stating, 'fuck you, you racist mother fucker.'" (Id. at 36.) After completing his investigation, Lieutenant Gilman referred the incident report to the Unit Disciplinary Committee ("UDC") for further action. (Id.)

On April 27, 2009, the UDC held a hearing to review the incident report. (Id. at 35.) Stevens "refused" to attend the UDC hearing. (Id. at 35, 42.) After reviewing the matter, the UDC referred it to the Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO") for further hearing. (Id. at 35.) Stevens was advised of the DHO hearing and advised of his rights at that hearing. (Id. at 40-41.) He was given copies of "Inmate Rights at Discipline Hearing" and the "Notice of Discipline Hearing Before the DHO." (Id. at 39-41.) Stevens refused to sign the form acknowledging that he had been advised of his rights. (Id. at 40-41.)

On May 1, 2009, the DHO held a hearing. (See id. at 32-34.) Prior to the hearing, Stevens was advised of his right to appear before the DHO but waived that right. (Id. at 32, 38.) In addition, he waived his right to a staff representative and did not request witnesses on his behalf. (Id. at 32.) The DHO conducted the hearing in Stevens' absence, and relied on the available evidence, namely, the injury assessment form for Officer Blankenship and the incident report containing Officer Blankenship's witness statement. (Id. at 32-33.) In his decision dated September 18, 2009, finding that Stevens had committed the act as charged, the DHO stated, Your due process rights were read and reviewed with you by the DHO at the time of the hearing. You stated you understood your rights, had no documentary evidence to present, and requested no witnesses. You further indicated you do not wish to have a staff representative.

You waived your appearance before the DHO and the hearing was continued in your absence. Hence, the DHO can only determine that you had no interest in offering any evidence to refute the charge. The DHO gave greater weight of evidence to statement of the reporting staff, who has a duty and obligation to report the truth and submit accurate statements. (Id. at 33.) Stevens was sanctioned with disallowance of 27 days of good conduct time, 45 days of disciplinary segregation, and a disciplinary transfer was recommended. (Id.) The decision was delivered to Stevens on October 27, 2009. (Id. at 34.)

At the time of the filing of Respondent's answer to the instant petition, Stevens had filed thirty-two (32) requests for administrative remedies since entering the BOP. (See Doc. 6-1 at 13-30.) None of these requests pertain to the incident report or DHO hearing and decision at issue in this petition. (See id.)

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 Stevens was charged with Assaulting Any Person, an offense in the high severity category, the matter was referred for a disciplinary hearing.

High category offenses carry a possible sanction of loss of good conduct time credits, inter alia. 28 C.F.R. § 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 statement by the factfinder as to evidence relied on ...

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