Inmate wins habeas relief from disciplinary sanction

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A prisoner has been granted habeas relief from a disciplinary decision against him after the Northern Indiana District Court found he was denied the right to present evidence in his case.

Shawn Colwell, a prisoner at the Miami Correctional Facility, successfully represented himself in contesting a disciplinary order that found him guilty of possessing a weapon.

Following a disciplinary hearing, Colwell was sanctioned with a loss of 180 days earned credit time and a demotion in credit class. But he argued entitlement to habeas corpus relief because the screening officer prevented him from requesting witness statements from his cellmate and from a captain.

Specifically, Colwell alleged that both he and his cellmate were charged with possession of the same weapon. A hearing officer dismissed the cellmate’s charge based on a statement from the captain, but Colwell declined to request evidence for his defense based on the screening officer’s representation that his charge would be dismissed for the same reason.

The warden asserted that, among other things, Colwell didn’t explain how the witness statements would have affected the outcome of the hearing, and that the screening officer no longer works for the DOC. The warden also argued that the cellmate was released and that neither the captain nor the hearing officer recalled the events.

“The essence of Colwell’s argument is that the screening officer denied him the right to present evidence when she incorrectly told him that his disciplinary charge would be dismissed. This statement led him to believe that no evidence would be necessary for his defense and to refrain from making any requests,” Magistrate Judge Michael Gotsch Sr. wrote in a Monday decision granting Colwell’s request for habeas relief.

“Only Colwell’s statements directly support that the screening officer made this statement, but the totality of the administrative record, including the screening report, Colwell’s hearing report, and the hearing report for his cellmate’s charge, is consistent with Colwell’s narrative,” Gotsch continued.

The court in Shawn Colwell v. Warden, 3:20-cv-01050, further noted that Colwell’s cellmate’s hearing report and the statements of the screening officer also suggested that a statement from the captain would have affected the outcome of the disciplinary decision.

Finally, it found that the warden produced no evidence to dispute Colwell’s narrative. It thus ordered him to file documentation by Nov. 1, showing that the guilty finding in Colwell’s disciplinary action has been vacated and the earned credit time restored.

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