United States District Court, D. New Jersey
September 12, 2005.
WILLIE JAMES GRIFFIN, JR., Petitioner,
C.J. DeROSA, Warden, Respondent.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KUGLER, Magistrate Judge
Petitioner Willie James Griffin, Jr., a prisoner currently
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
For the reasons set forth below, the Petition will be denied.
Petitioner was convicted in the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Florida of conspiracy to possess with intent
to distribute cocaine and cocaine base. He was sentenced to a
term of imprisonment of 252 months, to be followed by ten years
of supervised release. He currently is confined at the Federal
Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, New Jersey, pursuant to
On August 16, 2002, Petitioner dialed a telephone number and
spoke with a female, later identified as his sister. He asked
where whether she had the telephone number for his niece. When
his sister said she did not know the number by heart, Petitioner
asked whether she had three-way calling. She responded that she
did and asked whether she could make a call on the other line to
retrieve the niece's telephone number. Petitioner said that she
could, but that she had to do the talking. Petitioner's sister
dialed another number, that number rang, she clicked over, and
returned shortly thereafter and gave him the telephone number.
Petitioner did not speak to the third party nor could he hear
that conversation. Upon routine review of the taped telephone call, prison staff
issued an incident report charging Petitioner with a violation of
Code 297, use of the telephone for abuses other than criminal
activity (e.g., third-party calling, conference calling), a "High
Category" prohibited act. See 28 C.F.R. § 541.13 Prohibited
acts and disciplinary severity scale. On August 17, 2002, staff
provided Petitioner with a copy of the incident report.
The Unit Disciplinary Committee ("UDC") reviewed the incident
report on August 19, 2002. Petitioner asserted that he was merely
put on hold and couldn't even hear the conversation on the other
line, let alone speak to a third party. Because a Code 297 is a
High Category prohibited act, and the sanctions applicable to
such misconduct exceeded the UDC's authority, the UDC referred
the incident report to the Discipline Hearing Officer ("DHO") for
On August 19, 2002, Petitioner was advised of his rights by the
DHO, at which point he requested no witnesses but asked for a
staff representative. Petitioner's DHO hearing took place on
September 5, 2002. His requested staff representative, Mr.
Writtenhour, was not available. Petitioner elected to proceed
with the hearing without the assistance of Mr. Writtenhour or a
new staff representative. Petitioner restated that he did have
his sister use three-way calling to call a third party, but he
never heard the call nor talked to the third party, believing that as long as he did neither he was not in violation of any
rule. He also submitted an evidentiary defense in the form of a
greeting card from his mother and a legal-sized sheet of paper
with writing on both sides expressing his defense once again.
Based on the incident report, Petitioner's admission that he
asked his sister to make a third-party call while he remained on
the line, and the tape recording of the call that the DHO
listened to at the hearing, the DHO concluded that Petitioner had
violated prison regulations. However, the DHO found that
Petitioner had actually committed the prohibited act of Code 397,
use of the telephone for abuses other than criminal activity
(e.g., three-way calling, conference calling), a less severe
"Moderate Category" prohibited act, subjecting Petitioner to
lesser sanctions. The DHO sanctioned Petitioner to loss of 13
days good conduct time, 15 days of disciplinary segregation, and
loss of various other privileges. The DHO noted that these severe
sanctions were necessary because of the seriousness of
Petitioner's misconduct and the ineffectiveness of prior
sanctions in modifying his behavior. The DHO provided Petitioner
a copy of his report on October 2, 2002.
Petitioner's administrative appeals of the DHO's findings were
denied. Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Petitioner
submitted this § 2241 Petition for writ of habeas corpus. Here, Petitioner contends that prison staff charged him first
with a "High Category" offense in order to manipulate the
disciplinary hearing process by forcing prisoners charged with
such offenses to spend time in administrative detention while
they await their hearings, by removing the hearing from the UDC
to the DHO, and to obtain leverage in persuading prisoners to
waive their right to a staff representative who may be
unavailable in order to avoid remaining in administrative
detention while awaiting a hearing. In addition, Petitioner
contends that the DHO abused his discretion in finding that
Petitioner violating Code 397. Petitioner claims that he did not
make a three-way call in violation of Code 397 because he never
spoke to the third party on the other line. Petitioner does not
specify the relief he seeks.
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). As Petitioner challenges a disciplinary proceeding that
resulted in the loss of good time credits, this Court properly
may exercise jurisdiction over that claim.
To the extent a prisoner challenges 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 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, in this habeas
action, this Court can award no relief related to those sanctions
that do not affect the length of Petitioner's sentence.
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, it is apparent that there was no deficiency in the
procedures followed. Petitioner received advance notice of the
charges, was offered a staff representative, was permitted to
make a statement in his defense, and was provided a statement of
the reasons for the DHO's decision.
Petitioner alleges also, however, that the circumstances of the
telephone call, to which he admitted, do not amount to a
prohibited act. To the contrary, Petitioner made an authorized
telephone call, asked the other party to make a call to a third
party while he remained on the line for the purpose of obtaining
certain information, waited on the line, and received that
requested information. Three parties were involved in one
telephone call. Petitioner's admissions about the circumstances
of the call, as well as the tape recording of the call, support
the DHO's findings.
Petitioner has not established that there was any due process
violation in this disciplinary proceeding.
For the reasons set forth above, the Petition will be denied.
An appropriate order follows.
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