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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Jesse Strickland # 232810 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Jesse Strickland # 232810

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter is before the Administrative Law Court (ALC or Court) pursuant to the appeal of Jesse Strickland, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (Department). Strickland was convicted of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 1.10, Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana or Unauthorized Drugs, Including Prescription Drugs, after pleading not guilty to the charge. As a result of his conviction, Strickland lost ninety (90) days of “good-time” credit.[1] Strickland filed a grievance with the Department and received the Department’s final decision on June 18, 2004. On July 8, 2004, the Appellant filed this appeal with the Court.


On January 20, 2004, the Appellant was administered a drug test while housed at the Kirkland Correctional Institution by Sergeant Floyd base upon reasonable suspicion. The Appellant tested positive for marijuana or “THC.” Sergeant Floyd then performed a confirmation test which further corroborated the existence of marijuana in the Appellant. Thereafter, Sergeant Floyd completed an Incident Report charging the Appellant with violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 1.10, Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana or Unauthorized Drugs. On January 27, 2004, the Appellant was given written notice of the charge of violating SCDC Code § 1.10 based upon the above incident.

A hearing was held on January 29, 2004, before a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO). At the Appellant’s request, he was provided a counsel substitute. Additionally, the Appellant requested that his accuser, Sergeant Floyd, be present at the hearing. During the hearing, the DHO read a narrative of Sergeant Floyd’s Incident Report into the Record and received testimony from the Appellant and Sergeant Floyd as evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the DHO found the Appellant guilty of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 1.10 and sanctioned the Appellant with the loss of ninety (90) days of “good time” credit. After the hearing, the DHO completed a Major Disciplinary Report and Hearing Record, which documented the DHO’s findings based on the Record.

The Appellant filed a grievance appealing his conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 1.10. The Warden denied the Appellant’s grievance. After he appealed the Warden’s decision, the Department denied his grievance. This appeal followed. In his Appeal Brief, the Appellant alleges that there was insufficient evidence presented at the hearing to find him guilty of this charge. In his Appeal Brief, the Appellant alleges that:

1. The results of the drug test were improperly used against him;

2. He was placed in pre-hearing detention for thirteen (13) days prior to the hearing in violation of Department policy; and

3. He was placed in pre-hearing detention using an out-of-date form.

Though the Department failed to specifically identify and brief any of these issues, I nevertheless issue this Order based on the Record and the law.


The Court’s jurisdiction to hear this matter is derived entirely from the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). The Court’s appellate jurisdiction in inmate appeals is limited to state created liberty interests typically involving: (1) cases in which an inmate contends that prison officials have erroneously calculated his sentence, sentence-related credits, or custody status; and (2) cases in which an inmate has received punishment in a major disciplinary hearing as a result of a serious rule violation. Id.[2]

When reviewing the Department’s decisions in inmate grievance matters, the Court sits in an appellate capacity. Id. at 756. Consequently, the review in these inmate grievance cases is limited to the Record presented. An Administrative Law Judge may not substitute his judgment for that of an agency “as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact.” S.C. Code Ann. § 1‑23‑380(A)(6) (Supp. 2003). Furthermore, an Administrative Law Judge may not reverse or modify an agency’s decision unless substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the decision is clearly erroneous in view of the substantial evidence on the whole record, arbitrary or affected by an error of law. See Section 1-23-380(A)(6); See also Marietta Garage, Inc. v. South Carolina Dept. of Public Safety, 337 S.C. 133, 522 S.E.2d 605 (Ct. App. 1999); South Carolina Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation v. Girgis, 332 S.C. 162, 503 S.E.2d 490 (Ct. App. 1998). “‘Substantial evidence’ is not a mere scintilla of evidence nor the evidence viewed blindly from one side of the case, but is evidence which, considering the record as a whole, would allow reasonable minds to reach the conclusion that the administrative agency reached or must have reached in order to justify its action.” Lark v. Bi‑Lo, 276 S.C. 130, 135, 276 S.E.2d 304, 306 (1981). Accordingly, the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence. Grant v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 319 S.C. 348, 461 S.E.2d 388 (1995).

Additionally, in Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 105 S.Ct. 2768 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that “the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.” Moreover, in Al-Shabazz, the Court underscored that since prison officials are in the best position to decide inmate disciplinary matters, the Courts and therefore this tribunal adhere to a “hands off” approach to internal prison disciplinary policies and procedures when reviewing inmate appeals under the APA. Al-Shabazz at 757; See also Pruitt v. State, 274 S.C. 565, 266 S.E.2d 779 (1980) (stating the traditional “hands off” approach of South Carolina courts regarding internal prison discipline and policy).

In this case, the Appellant alleges that the Department should not have revoked ninety (90) days of his accrued good time. Inmates have a protected liberty interest in their earned statutory good-time credits under the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, when, as here, the Department revokes an inmate’s good-time credits as punishment in a “major disciplinary hearing” involving “more serious rule violations,” prison officials must provide that inmate with “minimal due process.” Al-Shabazz at 750. Consequently, specific administrative procedures must be followed before depriving an inmate of statutorily granted earned credit, including adequate advance notice of the charges, adequate opportunity for a hearing in which the inmate can present witnesses and documentary evidence, and an impartial hearing officer who prepares a written statement of all the evidence presented and the reasons for his decision. Id. at 751 (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-72, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2978-82 (1974)).


I find that the Appellant was afforded all process due him pursuant to Al-Shabazz. The Record indicates that the Appellant received written notice of the charges against him in excess of twenty-four (24) hours prior to a hearing that was held before an impartial Disciplinary Hearing Officer. At the hearing, the Appellant was given the opportunity to offer evidence, call witnesses, and confront his accuser. In addition, although not constitutionally required, the Appellant was afforded a counsel substitute who assisted him in his defense. After the DHO determined that the Appellant was guilty of the charged offense, he prepared a written report detailing the evidence he relied upon and the penalty assessed in finding the Appellant guilty of the disciplinary infraction. Finally, the Appellant was permitted to appeal the DHO’s decision through the inmate grievance process.

Pre-hearing Detention

The Appellant contends that he was improperly placed in pre-hearing detention for thirteen (13) days prior to the hearing in violation of the Department’s policies. He also argues that his pre-hearing detention was pursuant to an out-of-date form of the Department. However, the evidence submitted by the Department verifies that an inmate charged with violating the drug policy may be held in “pre-hearing detention” in keeping with the Department’s policy. Furthermore, the Appellant cited no policy or law that the Department violated. Moreover, “a prison official's failure to follow the prison's own policies, procedures or regulations does not constitute a violation of due process, if constitutional minima are nevertheless met.” Myers v. Klevenhagen, 97 F.3d 91, 94 (5th Cir. 1996). As set forth above, the “constitutional minima” circumscribed by Al-Shabazz and Wolff, supra, was met by the Department in this case. Therefore, the Appellant failed to establish that the above actions violated those due process rights.

Drug Test

The Appellant also contends that he was unable to adequately defend himself in the disciplinary proceedings because the drug “test stick” was discarded prior to the hearing. However, the “minimum requirements of procedural due process” set forth in Wolff requires only that the prisoner be provided with written notice of the charges prior to the hearing. Id. at 559. Here, the Appellant was not only given notice of the charges but was also provided a copy of the drug test reports prior to his hearing.

Furthermore, the Appellant’s allegations go to the sufficiency of the evidence. In Superintendent, Massachusetts Correctional Institution, Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 105 S.Ct. 2768 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the revocation of good time must be supported by “some evidence in the record.” However, “[a]scertaining whether this standard is satisfied does not require examination of the entire record, independent assessment of the credibility of witnesses, or weighing of the evidence. Instead, the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board.” Id. at 455. Moreover, “[t]he fact finder is imbued with broad discretion in determining credibility or believability of witnesses.” Small v. Pioneer Machinery, Inc., 329 S.C. 448, 465, 494 S.E.2d 835, 843 (Ct. App. 1997). Therefore, it was the DHO’s prerogative to decide what part of each witness’ testimony he believed or disbelieved.

A Disciplinary Code § 1.10 violation is, in part: “Any inmate testing positive for any unauthorized drug, refusing to submit to a drug test, or failing to produce a specimen within three (3) hours as specified in SCDC Policy/Procedure GA-03.03. . . .” I find that the Record clearly supports the facts recited in the “Background” portion of this Order. Those facts establish substantial evidence that the Appellant tested positive for an unauthorized drug. Accordingly, I find that there is substantial evidence to support the Appellant's conviction of SCDC Disciplinary Code § 1.10.


IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the appeal of the Appellant is DISMISSED and the Final Decision of the Department is AFFIRMED;




Ralph King Anderson, III

Administrative Law Judge



March 23, 2005

Columbia, South Carolina

Brown Bldg.






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