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Colon v. C. Ratledge

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

January 17, 2019

JULIO COLON, Petitioner,
v.
C. RATLEDGE, WARDEN, Respondent.

          Julio Colon, Pro Se Petitioner; Matthew Miller, Assistant United States Attorney, Roanoke, Virginia, for Respondent.

          OPINION

          JAMES P. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner, Julio Colon, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, filed this Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241.[1] Colon contends that he was convicted of prison disciplinary offenses without due process. After review of the record parties' submissions, [2] I conclude that Colon's petition must be dismissed as without merit.

         I.

         Colon was incarcerated at United States Penitentiary Lewisburg (“USP Lewisburg”) when the disciplinary proceedings at issue occurred. On June 13, 2016, an investigator there completed an Incident Report, charging Colon with three prison disciplinary infractions: introduction of any narcotic, use of the mail for an illegal purpose, and use of the telephone for an illegal purpose.[3] According to the Incident Report and an investigation report by authorities at USP Lewisburg, evidence indicated that in March 2016, Colon had placed a telephone call and then used coded language in telephone conversations with a female acquaintance to arrange for her to send him fifty N8 Suboxone strips hidden in legal mail. The attempted transaction was thwarted in the USP Lewisburg mailroom. Investigators discovered that the law firm listed as the return address on Colon's incoming legal mail item was false, opened the package, and found the Suboxone strips and other items used as evidence against Colon.

         Undisputed documentation indicates that Colon received a copy of the Incident Report on June 13, 2016, and again on August 9, 2016, after a possible criminal prosecution was declined. A Unit Discipline Committee (“UDC”) reviewed the Incident Report and held a hearing at which Colon was present. He made no comment. Based on the seriousness of the charges, the UDC then referred the report to a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (“DHO”) for further proceedings. On August 10, 2016, Colon signed forms indicating that he had been given notice and advised of his rights regarding the upcoming DHO proceedings. In writing, he declined opportunities to have a staff representative and to present witness testimony.

         The DHO conducted a hearing on August 15, 2016. Colon declined to present evidence on his behalf. When the DHO asked if he wished to admit or deny committing the prohibited acts charged in the report, Colon made no comment.[4]

         The final DHO Report in the record is dated September 1, 2016. It indicates that as evidence in the case, the DHO considered the Incident Report, the investigation report, a transcript of the telephone conversation between Colon and his accomplice, and photographs of the legal mail package addressed to Colon that contained the concealed Suboxone strips. The DHO also considered the fact that Colon had elected not to make any statement or offer any documentary evidence in his defense at the hearing. Specifically, the DHO found that these facts supported an adverse inference that Colon had committed the charged infractions, because if Colon had not committed the infractions, he would have taken the opportunity that the hearing offered to deny doing so. Based on this listed evidence, the DHO determined that Colon had committed the prohibited acts as charged. The DHO then imposed sanctions, including the loss of forty-one days of good conduct time for each offense, sixty days of disciplinary segregation, and the temporary loss of several privileges. The DHO Report indicates that Colon was advised of his right to pursue an administrative appeal of the DHO's rulings and that he was provided a copy of the final DHO report on September 1, 2016. Colon did not appeal.

         Colon's § 2241 petition contends that the DHO proceeding occurred less than 24 hours after Colon received the Incident Report; that he was denied the right to call witnesses and to present documentary evidence; that he did not receive a copy of the DHO's written decision; and that the evidence was insufficient to support the DHO's ruling. The respondent filed a pleading asking for dismissal of the petition.[5] The court notified Colon of the respondent's pleading as required by Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975). Colon has responded, making the matter ripe for consideration.

         II.

         “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.” Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). The inmate facing a prison disciplinary charge enjoys these limited, constitutionally guaranteed due process protections: (1) written notice of the charged violations at least twenty-four hours before the hearing; (2) disclosure of evidence against him; (3) the right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence absent safety concerns; (4) a neutral and detached factfinder; and (5) a written statement by the fact finder of the evidence relied on and reasons for disciplinary action. Id. at 564-71.

         Undisputed documents now in the record demonstrate that Colon received the following Wolff protections: (1) proper and timely notice of the charges, (2) disclosure in the Incident Report of what evidence would be considered in support of those charges, and (3) an opportunity to present witnesses and documentary evidence at the hearing. Therefore, I must deny relief on his claims to the contrary.

         I also find it undisputed that Colon has now received a copy of the DHO's Report, listing the evidence relied on, the reasons for the finding of guilt, and the reasons for the sanctions imposed.[6] Finally, the documentation of the disciplinary proceedings does not support any claim that the DHO failed to remain neutral and detached as the factfinder, and Colon has not asserted such a claim. Therefore, I conclude that Colon has failed to demonstrate denial of any procedural protection constitutionally required under Wolff related to the challenged disciplinary proceedings.[7]

         Rather, Colon's petition and later submissions, in essence, contend that the DHO had insufficient evidence to support his findings or the penalties imposed. In a sworn affidavit, Colon avers that he never instructed anyone to send Suboxone to any prison. He complains that he never saw the transcript of the telephone conversation or the photographs of the legal mail package. Colon believes that USP Lewisburg authorities “manufactured the DHO report” and “have no evidence” that he actually committed the charged offenses. Pet'r's Resp. Ex. B, ECF No. 15. Because the respondent has failed to produce all ...


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