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Mejia v. Recktenwald

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 16, 2014

JESUS MEJIA, Petitioner,
v.
MONICA RECKTENWALD, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM

MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

Background

Jesus Mejia filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 while previously confined at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Institute, White Deer, Pennsylvania (FCI-Allenwood).[1] Named as Respondent is FCI-Allenwood Warden Monica Recktenwald. Service of the petition was previously ordered.

Petitioner states that he is presently serving a 270 month sentence which was imposed by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.[2] Mejia's pending action does not challenge the legality of his criminal conviction or the resulting sentence. Rather, Petitioner seeks relief with respect to an institutional disciplinary hearing.

Petitioner states that while housed at the Allenwood Low Security Correctional Institution, White Deer, Pennsylvania (LSCI-Allenwood) on January 28, 2012, prison officials conducting an "area search" confiscated "a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia." Doc. 1, ¶ 11. As a result of that seizure, Mejia and fellow prisoner Anthony Bissacco were issued written incident reports and placed in the prison's Special Housing Unit (SHU). See id.

According to the Petition, on February 8, 2013, Mejia had a hearing on the misconduct charge before a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO). During this proceeding, Petitioner submitted a written affidavit from Bissacco "which fully exonerated Petitioner." Id. at ¶ 15. Inmate Bissacco also gave oral testimony admitting to sole ownership of the seized contraband. Despite that evidence, the DHO found Mejia guilty and imposed multiple sanctions against him including a forty (40) day loss of good time credit. Petitioner's pending action claims entitlement to federal habeas corpus relief on the basis that there was no evidence to support the DHO's finding of guilt.

According to the Respondent, on the morning of January 28, 2012, a correctional officer was making housing unit rounds when he observed Mejia and Bissacco attempting to ignite a piece of toilet paper with a sparking device.[3] See Doc. 8, p. 2. The correctional officer subsequently saw and confiscated a homemade pipe sitting on the desk in the housing cube occupied by the two prisoners. The pipe contained a green leafy substance which later field tested positive for marijuana. As a result, Mejia was issued an institutional misconduct which charged him with possession of marijuana or related paraphernalia. The Unit Discipline Committee (UDC) referred the charge to the DHO for further proceedings.

During the ensuing misconduct hearing, the Petitioner made a statement, submitted documentary evidence, and also presented the testimony of Inmate Bissacco. Upon consideration of Mejia's verbal and written statements, Bissacco's testimony and statement, the reporting officer's incident report, and a memorandum from the officer who field tested the green leafy substance, the DHO found Petitioner guilty of the charge and issued a detailed written decision to that effect.

Discussion

Habeas corpus review under § 2241 "allows a federal prisoner to challenge the execution' of his sentence." Woodall v. Federal Bureau of Prisons , 432 F.3d 235, 241 (3d Cir. 2005). A habeas corpus petition may be brought by a prisoner who seeks to challenge either the fact or duration of his confinement in prison. Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475 (1973), Telford v. Hepting , 980 F.2d 745, 748 (3d Cir. 1993). Federal habeas corpus review is available only "where the deprivation of rights is such that it necessarily impacts the fact or length of detention." Leamer v. Fauver , 288 F.3d 532, 540 (3d Cir. 2002).

The United States Supreme Court in Wolff v. McDonnell , 418 U.S. 539, 563-73 (1974), held that a prisoner deprived of good time credits as a sanction for misconduct is entitled to certain due process protections in a prison disciplinary proceeding. Wolff noted that "prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply." Id. at 556. Nonetheless, the United States Supreme Court held that a prisoner facing a loss of good time credits is entitled to some procedural protection. Id. at 563-71.

A subsequent United States Supreme Court decision, Sandin v. Conner , 515 U.S. 472, 480-84 (1995), reiterated that the due process safeguards set forth in Wolff must be provided when the challenged disciplinary proceeding results in a loss of good time credits. See also Young v. Kann , 926 F.2d 1396, 1399 (3d Cir. 1991) (a federal prisoner has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in good time credit); Griffin v. Spratt , 969 F.2d 16, 19 (3d Cir. 1992). Since Petitioner was undisputably sanctioned to a loss of good time credits which adversely affected the duration of his ongoing federal confinement, this claim is properly raised in a § 2241 petition.

Wolff set forth five requirements of due process in a prison disciplinary proceeding: (1) the right to appear before an impartial decision-making body; (2) twenty-four hour advance written notice of the charges; (3) an opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence, provided the presentation of such does not threaten institutional safety or correctional goals; (4) assistance from an inmate representative, if the charged inmate is illiterate or if complex issues are involved; (5) a written decision by the fact finders as to the evidence relied upon and the rationale behind their disciplinary action. Id . An additional procedural requirement was set forth in Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Inst. at Walpole v. Hill , 472 U.S. 445, 453-56 (1985). In that case, the United States Supreme Court held that there must be some evidence which supports the conclusion of the disciplinary tribunal.

There is no present assertion that Mejia was not afforded with the amount of advance written notice required under Wolff. Moreover, a copy of presiding DHO Todd Cerney's written report indicates that Petitioner was served with the misconduct on the evening of January 28, 2012 and the disciplinary ...


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