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Arreola-Albarran v. Ortiz

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 13, 2019

CANDIDO ARREOLA-ALBARRAN, Petitioner,
v.
DAVID ORTIZ, Respondent.

          OPINION

          Robert B. Kugler United States District Judge.

         Petitioner, Candido Arreola-Albarran, is a federal prisoner currently incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix, in Fort Dix, New Jersey. He is proceeding pro se with a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Respondent filed an Answer opposing relief (ECF No. 8), and Petitioner did not file a reply. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the Petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from a disciplinary hearing during Petitioner's incarceration at FCI Fort Dix. At 1:00 p.m., on August 20, 2016, prison officials found a cell phone in the possession of a Fredy Arbito, another prisoner at the facility. Officials analyzed the phone on August 22, 2016 and found that someone had used the phone to call a person at 11:01 a.m. and another person at 11:56 a.m., on August 20, 2016. A system report revealed that those numbers were on Petitioner's approved list and belonged to Petitioner's parent and children. As a result, later that same day, officials issued an incident report charging Petitioner with possession of a hazardous tool, in violation of Bureau of Prisons Code 108, [1] delivered the report to Petitioner, and advised him of his rights.

         On that same day, the investigating official referred the incident report to the Unit Discipline Committee (“UDC”). On August 23, 2016, Petitioner received a notice of disciplinary hearing, and officials advised him of his rights. Petitioner signed an acknowledgement of those rights and indicated that he did not want to have a staff representative or call any witnesses.

         On August 24, 2016, the UDC held an initial hearing, where Petitioner admitted that the numbers belonged to his family members but stated that he did not know how the numbers appeared in the phone. He also denied ever using the phone. After the hearing, the UDC referred the incident report to a Discipline Hearing Officer (“DHO”).

         Several months later, on December 16, 2016, the DHO held a hearing and again advised Petitioner of his rights. Petitioner confirmed that he did not want a staff representative and did not wish to call any witnesses. Petitioner stated that “he did not know how the phone number showed up on the cell phone” and that “his family had made calls but no one said anything to him about anybody else contacting them.” (ECF No. 8-3, at 20).

         The DHO considered Petitioner's statements in reaching a decision, as well as the incident report; the chain of custody log for the cell phone; a memorandum from the staff member who recovered the cell phone; photos of the cellphone, including recently dialed numbers; and a system report for the two phone numbers in the phone's recent call log.

         In particular, the DHO found that the system report showed that the two phone numbers at issue were only on Petitioner's approved phone list, rather than on any other inmates' approved list. After considering all of the evidence, the DHO concluded that Petitioner committed the act of aiding in the possession of a dangerous tool, in violation of Code 108. The DHO then issued the following sanctions: (1) revocation of forty days of good conduct time; (2) loss of email privileges for ninety days; and (3) loss of phone privileges for ninety days.

         Petitioner appealed the DHO's decision, arguing that the weight of the evidence did not support the DHO's findings. More specifically, Petitioner argued that he was at work during the calls to his family and that the DHO failed to explain “how” Petitioner aided another inmate in possessing a cellphone. At each level of appeal, Petitioner received a denial. The parties dispute whether Petitioner raised these allegations at any of his hearings.

         Petitioner then filed the instant Petition, again arguing that the DHO's decision was against the greater weight of the evidence. Respondent filed an Answer (ECF No. 8), and Petitioner did not file a reply.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW & JURISDICTION

         Courts hold pro se pleadings to less stringent standards than more formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). Courts must construe pro se habeas petitions and any supporting submissions liberally and with a measure of tolerance. See Royce v. Hahn, 151 F.3d 116, 118 (3d Cir. 1998).

         If the Court does not dismiss the petition at the screening stage, the Court “must review the answer, any transcripts and records . . . to determine whether” the matter warrants an evidentiary hearing. Rule 8(a) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (made applicable to proceedings under § 2241 by Rule 1(b)). “Whether to order a hearing is within the sound discretion of the trial court, ” and depends on whether the hearing “would have the potential to advance the petitioner's claim.” Campbell v. Vaughn,209 F.3d 280, 287 (3d Cir. 2000); States ...


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