United States District Court, D. New Jersey
September 12, 2005.
JUAN MORALES, Petitioner,
WARDEN C.J. DeROSA, Respondent.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge
Petitioner Juan Morales, a prisoner confined at the Federal
Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, New Jersey, has submitted a
petition for writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2241,*fn1 challenging the results of a prison disciplinary
proceeding. The sole respondent is Warden C.J. DeRosa. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition will be denied.
Petitioner is presently confined pursuant to a conviction and
sentence issued in the U.S. District Court for the District of
On November 16, 2002, Petitioner submitted a urine sample for
drug testing. The Chain of Custody form signed by Petitioner,
Register Number 11782-050, indicated Specimen Number B00902296.
The Chain of Custody form included the following certification:
"I certify that the specimen accompanying this form is my own and
that I provided it to the collector. Further, I certify that the
specimen was sealed in my presence and that the information on
this form and label is correct." (Answer, Hebbon Decl., Ex. 1d,
Chain of Custody form.)
On November 21, 2002, Petitioner was issued an Incident Report,
Number 1049453, charging him with the unauthorized use of
narcotics, a violation of Offense Code 112. See
28 C.F.R. § 541.13 (detailing Offense Codes). The Incident Report stated:
On 11/21/02 at approximately 10:00 am I received
written notification from National Toxicology which
stated that specimen number B00643831 had tested
positive for Opiates/Morphine. Specimen number
B00902296 was assigned to the urine sample for
inmate Morales, Juan # 11782-050 and provided on
11-16-2002 at 5:43pm to officer Duncan. Health
Services was notified and informed this office that
the medication was not prescribed to inmate Morales,
Juan # 03147-036 which resulted in a positive test
for Opiates/Morphine. (Answer, Hebbon Decl., Ex. 1c, Incident Report No. 1049453
(emphasis added).) The Incident Report refers to two different
specimen numbers and two different register numbers.
The Incident Report was based upon a laboratory report from
National Toxicology Laboratories, which reflects a positive
result for "Opiates Morphine" for Specimen Number B00902296.
(Answer, Hebbon Decl., Ex. 1e, National Toxicology Laboratories,
Inc. Laboratory Report.)
On November 22, 2002, the United Discipline Committee ("UDC")
referred the incident report to the Discipline Hearing Officer
("DHO") for further hearing. On December 12, 2002, a DHO hearing
was convened. During that hearing, it was noted that two specimen
identification numbers were included on the incident report.
Therefore, the DHO returned the report for additional
On December 13, 2002, a revised incident report was issued to
Petitioner charging him with the same prohibited act as the
original incident report. (Answer, Hebbon Decl., Ex. 1f, Revised
Incident Report.) While the revised incident report corrected the
erroneous reference to specimen number B00643831, it did not
correct the erroneous reference to two different register
The DHO hearing reconvened on December 19, 2002. The DHO
determined that Petitioner had committed the prohibited act charged and imposed various sanctions, including the disallowance
of 54 days good time credits. (Answer, Hebbon Decl., Ex. 1g, DHO
Report.) The DHO Report reflects that Petitioner denied the
charge and stated that he did not use any drugs. In finding that
Petitioner had committed the prohibited acts, the DHO relied upon
the Incident Report, the Chain of Custody form, the Laboratory
Report, and Petitioner's institutional history of unauthorized
use of narcotics.
Petitioner has exhausted his administrative remedies for
challenging the DHO Report and sanctions.
Here, Petitioner contends that he was denied due process
because the DHO was belligerent at the hearing, because the
specimen that tested positive was not assigned to him (as
evidenced by the typographical discrepancies in the Incident
Report), and because the sanctions imposed are severe.
Respondent has answered. Petitioner has submitted a reply in
support of his Petition, and this matter is ready for
II. LEGAL STANDARD
"Habeas corpus petitions must meet heightened pleading
requirements." McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856 (1994). A
petition must "specify all the grounds for relief" and must set
forth "facts supporting each of the grounds thus specified."
See Rule 2(c) of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the U.S. District Courts (amended Dec. 1, 2004) ("Habeas Rules"), made
applicable to § 2241 petitions through Rule 1(b) of the Habeas
Nevertheless, a pro se pleading is held to less stringent
standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Estelle
v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A pro se habeas petition and any supporting
submissions must be construed liberally and with a measure of
tolerance. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir.
1998); Lewis v. Attorney General, 878 F.2d 714, 721-22 (3d Cir.
1989); United States v. Brierley, 414 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.
1969), cert. denied, 399 U.S. 912 (1970).
A habeas corpus petition is the proper mechanism for a prisoner
to challenge the "fact or duration" of his confinement, Preiser
v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-99 (1973), including challenges
to prison disciplinary proceedings that affect the length of
confinement, such as deprivation of good time credits, Muhammad
v. Close, 540 U.S. 749 (2004) and Edwards v. Balisok,
520 U.S. 641 (1997). See also Wilkinson v. Dotson, 125 S.Ct. 1242
(2005). Habeas corpus is an appropriate mechanism, also, for a
federal prisoner to challenge the execution of his sentence.
See Coady v. Vaughn, 251 F.3d 480, 485-86 (3d Cir. 2001); Barden v. Keohane, 921 F.2d 476, 478-79 (3d Cir. 1990).
In addition, where a prisoner seeks a "quantum change" in the
level of custody, for example, where a prisoner claims to be
entitled to probation or bond or parole, habeas is the
appropriate form of action. See, e.g., Graham v. Broglin,
922 F.2d 379 (7th Cir. 1991) and cases cited therein.
To the extent a prisoner challenges sanctions affecting his
conditions of confinement, however, such claims must be raised by
way of a civil rights action. See Leamer v. Fauver,
288 F.3d 532 (3d Cir. 2002). Where a favorable outcome necessarily would
imply the invalidity of the length of a prisoner's sentence, such
claims do not accrue until the sanction has been invalidated
through reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order,
declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such
determination, or called into question by a federal court's
issuance of a writ of habeas corpus. See Heck v. Humphrey,
512 U.S. 477 (1994). Thus, this Court can award no relief related
to those sanctions that do not affect the length of Petitioner's
B. Petitioner's Claims
Convicted and sentenced prisoners retain the protections of the
Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments that
the government may not deprive them of life, liberty, or property
without due process of law. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972);
Wilwording v. Swenson, 404 U.S. 249 (1971). Such protections
are, however, "subject to restrictions imposed by the nature of
the regime to which [prisoners] have been lawfully committed. . . .
In sum, there must be mutual accommodation between
institutional needs and objectives and the provisions of the
Constitution that are of general application." Wolff,
418 U.S. at 556.
A liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause may
arise from either of two sources: the Due Process Clause itself
or from state or federal law. See Hewitt v. Helms,
459 U.S. 460, 466 (1983); Asquith v. Department of Corrections,
186 F.3d 407, 409 (3d Cir. 1999).
Where the government has created a right to good time credits,
and has recognized that a prisoner's misconduct authorizes
deprivation of the right to good time credits as a
sanction,*fn2 "the prisoner's interest has real substance
and is sufficiently embraced within Fourteenth Amendment
`liberty' to entitle him to those minimum procedures appropriate
under the circumstances and required by the Due Process Clause to
insure that the state-created right is not arbitrarily abrogated."
Wolff, 418 U.S. at 557.
Thus, a prisoner is entitled to an impartial disciplinary
tribunal, Wolff, 418 U.S. at 570-71, excluding "only those
[prison] officials who have a direct personal or otherwise
substantial involvement . . . in the circumstances underlying the
charge from sitting on the disciplinary body," Meyers v.
Alldredge, 492 F.2d 296, 306 (3d Cir. 1974).
To comply with the requirements of the Due Process Clause,
prison officials also must provide a prisoner facing loss of good
time credits with: (1) a written notice of the charges at least
24 hours prior to any hearing, (2) an opportunity to call
witnesses and presented documentary evidence in his defense when
permitting him to do so will not be unduly hazardous to
institutional safety or correctional goals,*fn3 and (3) a
written statement by the factfinders as to the evidence relied on
and the reasons for the disciplinary action. Wolff,
418 U.S. at 564-66. Prisoners do not have a due process right of confrontation and
cross-examination, or a right to counsel, in prison disciplinary
proceedings. Id. at 569-70. Where an illiterate inmate is
involved, or the complexity of the issue makes it unlikely that
the inmate involved will be able to collect and present the
evidence necessary for an adequate comprehension of the case, the
prisoner should be permitted to seek the aid of a fellow inmate
or appropriate staff member. Id. at 570.
Finally, due process requires that findings of a prison
disciplinary official, that result in the loss of good time
credits, must be supported by "some evidence" in the record.
Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution at
Wolpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454-56 (1985).*fn4
Here, Petitioner challenges the independence of the DHO and the
sufficiency of the evidence. Petitioner does not allege that the
DHO had any personal interest in the matter. Any perceived
hostility based on intemperate remarks during the hearing is not
sufficient to establish that the DHO was not impartial. In
addition, the signed and certified Chain of Custody form, which
assigned Specimen Number B00902296 to Petitioner's urine specimen, coupled with the positive Laboratory Report for
Specimen Number B00902296, are sufficient evidence to support the
DHO's finding that Petitioner committed the prohibited act. There
is no inconsistency in the Chain of Custody form or the
Laboratory Report, but there is merely a typographical error in
the Incident Report. Finally, the sanctions imposed, while they
may be harsh, are within the sanctions allowed for such a
violation, and Petitioner does not argue otherwise.
Petitioner has failed to establish any due process violation in
connection with the challenged DHO Report and associated
For the reasons set forth above, the Petition will be denied.
An appropriate order follows.
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