Judge reinstates credit time after DOC withholds potentially exculpatory evidence

An inmate who was one of more than 1,000 inmates in the Indiana Department of Correction with the last name “Taylor” has been granted habeas relief from a prison disciplinary proceeding, with a judge finding the man was denied due process when DOC officials failed to explain how he was selected as the correct “Taylor” in the proceedings.

Demetrius D. Taylor was charged with violations of Indiana Department of Correction codes A 111/113 by DOC investigator J. Raney when food services worker M. Willard admitted to bringing cellphones, tobacco and other contraband into the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, where Taylor is serving a 79-year rape sentence. According to Willard, Taylor received some of the contraband.

Upon receiving the charge against him for conspiracy, attempting, aiding or abetting/trafficking, Taylor pleaded not guilty and requested physical evidence and the ability to call witnesses. Specifically, Taylor submitted a request for an interview and asked, among other things:

“Based upon what evidence are you alleging that I did anything?”

Taylor also asked for information about the specific dates, times and locations of his alleged misconduct, which Raney declined to provide, citing the fact that the case was ongoing. Then at a subsequent hearing, Taylor submitted a statement in which he claimed, “I was denied several pieces of evidence attempting to show that I am not the only Taylor in this Facility.”

But based on staff reports and evidence from witnesses, Taylor was found guilty and received sanctions of 180 days earned-credit-time deprivation, a demotion in credit class and the imposition of a suspended sanction of 180 days of earned-credit-time deprivation. Taylor’s subsequent appeals to the facility head and the IDOC final reviewing authority were denied, prompting his petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Demetrius D. Taylor v. Richard Brown, 2:18-cv-00053.

Among other things, Taylor’s petition argued he was denied evidence and therefore was entitled to relief. The Southern District Court agreed, finding Taylor was denied potentially exculpatory evidence that could have challenged Willard’s credibility when Raney did not specifically respond to how Taylor was identified from other inmates with the same last name.

“The Court agrees that information as to how Mr. Taylor was identified from other inmates with the last name Taylor was potentially exculpatory because it could have aided his defense in showing that another inmate named Taylor was involved in receiving contraband from Willard, or at least cast serious doubt as to whether Demetrius Taylor was the same Taylor to whom Willard gave contraband,” Senior Judge William T. Lawrence wrote.

The court took judicial notice of the fact that there were at least 1,068 inmates with the last name Taylor registered within the Indiana Department of Correction at the time Taylor’s offense was charged in October 2017, and further noted that none of the evidence presented referred to Taylor as specifically “Demetrius Taylor,” his DOC number or his bunk or cell location.

“The failure to provide this information to Mr. Taylor was a violation of his due process rights because how he was identified by Willard among other inmates with the same last name is potentially exculpatory,” Lawrence concluded, finding the denial violated the due process requirement of Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 570-71 (1974).

Thus, the court determined the disciplinary finding of guilt was arbitrary and that the imposed sanctions must be vacated and rescinded. The court ordered Taylor’s loss of credit time to be restored.

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