South Carolina              
Administrative Law Court
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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Willie Sease, #281519 vs. DOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Willie Sease, #281519

South Carolina Department of Corrections




INTRODUCTIONThis matter is before the Administrative Law Judge Division (“ALJD”) pursuant to the appeal of Willie Sease, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (“DOC”). On July 19, 2002, Sease was convicted of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code 1.10, Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana, or Unauthorized Drugs. As a result of his conviction, Sease lost 90 days of good time credit, 30 days of phone and canteen privileges, and 120 days of visitation privileges. Sease also received 5 hours of extra duty. Sease filed a grievance with the DOC on July 27, 2002, and received a final agency decision on October 10, 2002. On November 7, 2002, Sease filed this appeal. After a review of the record and the arguments, the decision of the DOC is affirmed.


On June 28, 2002, Sease was heard on an audiotape prepared by DOC’s Internal Affairs speaking on the telephone with a person later identified as a female visitor of another inmate, Tony Moser. During the conversation, the following exchange took place:

[Sease]:He said, did you do what he told you to do?

Female:Yeah, tell him I got two.

[Sease]:Ok, then well, OK, I’ll tell him you’ll see him when you get here.

The female on the tape speaking with Sease subsequently attempted to bring two packages of marijuana into the prison to Moser, at which time she was arrested. While Sease was not in possession of the marijuana, he was charged with Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana, or Unauthorized Drugs under the DOC Inmate Disciplinary System, which states as follows:

RULES VIOLATION DEFINED: The following disciplinary offenses represent violations of the SCDC inmate rules. A violation of these rules may consist of any of the following:

a. Engaging in the specified behavior;

b. Attempting to engage in the specified behavior;

c. Conspiring to engage in the specified behavior; or

d. Aiding others in engaging, attempting, or conspiring in the specified behavior.

(Emphasis added).

A hearing was held on the charge on July 19, 2002. During the hearing, Sease stated that he was the Inmate Representative Committee (“IRC”) for his dorm on the date in question, and that it was his duty as IRC to assist the other inmates. He stated that he assisted Moser by making a telephone call on Moser’s behalf to a female to let her know that she could visit Moser. Sease said that he was willing to make this phone call because the inmates had been informed previously that they would not be allowed visitors, but that they had since been informed that they would be permitted visitors on that day. Sease did not make similar phone calls for any of the other inmates, though; Sease stated that he thought the other inmates had probably had a chance to call their visitors themselves, and that Moser had just asked Sease to make this particular call for him. Sease said that when he got the female on the line with him, he asked her if she had gotten a car so that she would be able to come to the prison. He said Moser then “hollered” at him to ask the female “did you do that or did you get that or whatever.” Sease stated that he had no knowledge that Moser and the female were planning to bring drugs into the prison.

The charging Officer also testified at the hearing. He stated that the charge against Sease was based upon the arrest of the female, who had brought two packages of marijuana into the prison, and the audiotape of the telephone conversation earlier in the same day, in which Sease asked the female if she was coming to the prison to visit and if she had done what Moser had told her to do. The Disciplinary Hearing Officer (“DHO”) found Sease guilty of the charge, finding that Sease had aided Moser and the female in engaging, attempting, or conspiring to possess marijuana. The DHO relied on the audiotape and the testimony of the charging Officer in making that decision.


Jurisdiction is invoked in the instant case since this matter is a disciplinary hearing in which Sease was punished by the loss of good time credits, a loss which impacts a created liberty interest. Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000); McNeil v. S.C. Dep’t of Corrections, 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP (September 5, 2001).


In this review, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) acts “in an appellate capacity” and is “restricted to reviewing the decision below.” Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 377, 527 S.E.2d at 754. When acting in an appellate capacity, the ALJ must apply the criteria of S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp. 2002). See, e.g., S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(B) (Supp. 2002) (where an ALJ is directed to conduct a review “in the same manner prescribed in [§ 1-23-380](A).”).

S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp. 2002) establishes the following:

The court may reverse or modify the decision [of the agency] if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions or decisions are:

(a)in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions;

(b)in excess of the statutory authority of the agency;

(c)made upon unlawful procedure;

(d)affected by other error of law;

(e)clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record; or

(f)arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.

S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp. 2002). In this case, Sease essentially argues that the DOC decision is made upon unlawful procedure, and that the decision is clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record.



The statutory right to sentence-related credits is a protected liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 369-370, 527 S.E.2d at 750. An inmate facing the loss of sentence-related credits is entitled to minimal due process to ensure that the state-created right is not arbitrarily abrogated. Id. While due process is “flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands,” Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972), certain elements must be satisfied in order for procedural due process requirements to be met. Those elements include the following:

(1) that advance written notice of the charge be given to the inmate at least twenty-four hours before the hearing; (2) that factfinders must prepare a written statement of the evidence relied on and reasons for the disciplinary action; (3) that the inmate should be allowed to call witnesses and present documentary evidence, provided there is no undue hazard to institutional safety or correctional goals; (4) that counsel substitute (a fellow inmate or a prison employee) should be allowed to help illiterate inmates or in complex cases an inmate cannot handle alone; and (5) that the persons hearing the matter, who may be prison officials or employees, must be impartial.

Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 371, 527 S.E.2d at 751, citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-72 (1974).

Sease argues that DOC violated his due process rights by failing to follow its own internal policies. Sease contends that the form used to notify him of the charges against him contained the wrong date and place of the offense. However, Sease does not argue that the error in the date and the location of the offense on the form prevented him from having notice of what the charge against him was at least twenty-four hours prior to the hearing. Sease also argues that the form was insufficient because the evidence listed against him, including the Officer’s testimony and the tape of the phone call, amounted to mere opinion, rather than fact, in violation of DOC policy. Sease further complains that the hearing on his charge was held in excess of twenty days following the date of the offense, in violation of DOC policy. However, even if all of Sease’s allegations were established, such violations of DOC policy do not automatically require a reversal of or even a modification to the DOC order. Well-established law explains that an agency’s failure to follow its own procedural rules and regulations does not violate an aggrieved party’s constitutional due process rights since no such constitutional right exists. See Bd. of Curators v. Horowitz, 435 U.S. 78, 92 (1978); Hernandez v. Estelle, 788 F.2d 1154, 1158 (5th Cir.1986); Ogburn-Matthews v. Loblolly Partners (Ricefields Subdivision), 332 S.C. 551, 562, 505 S.E.2d 598, 603 (Ct.App. 1998), overruled on other grounds by Brown v. S. C. Dep’t of Health and Envtl. Control, 348 S.C. 507, 560 S.E.2d 410 (2002). In this case, Sease received adequate advance notice of the charges, adequate opportunity for a hearing in which he could present witnesses and documentary evidence, a counsel substitute, and an impartial hearing officer who prepared a written statement of all the evidence presented and the reasons for his decision. Thus, Sease received all of the due process to which he was entitled.


The ALJD, as a reviewing tribunal, cannot substitute its judgment for that of the DOC as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (Supp. 2002). Thus, once the facts are established by the DHO, the ALJD will not re-weigh the evidence in an attempt to come to an independent conclusion on the factual dispute. Rather, the ALJD will rely upon the DHO’s factual determinations and will not overturn those determinations unless they are clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6)(e) (Supp. 2002); Adams v. Texfi Indus., 341 S.C. 401, 404, 535 S.E.2d 124, 125 (2000). “‘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). “Substantial evidence is something less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency’s finding from being supported by substantial evidence.” Palmetto Alliance, Inc. v. S.C. Pub. Serv. Comm’n, 282 S.C. 430, 432, 319 S.E.2d 695, 696 (1984).

South Carolina courts have traditionally adhered to a “hands off” approach regarding judicial involvement in internal prison disciplinary procedures. Pruitt v. State, 274 S.C. 565, 266 S.E.2d 779 (1980). In Al-Shabazz, the South Carolina Supreme Court stated that, since prison officials are in the best position to decide inmate disciplinary matters, the courts and the ALJD shall adhere to this traditional “hands off” doctrine “when reviewing the outcome of any major or minor disciplinary hearing in which an inmate has a protected liberty interest due to the potential loss of sentence-related credits.” Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 382, 527 S.E.2d at 757.

Here, while Sease maintained that he did not know what Moser and the female were planning to do when he spoke to the female on the telephone, the evidence could lead a reasonable mind to believe that, by making the telephone call for Moser to inform the female that she could come visit that day and to ask her if she had gotten what Moser wanted, Sease was assisting Moser and the female in bringing marijuana into the prison for Moser to possess. The fact that reasonable minds could differ as to the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence does not prevent the DOC’s conclusion from being supported by substantial evidence in the record. Thus, the DOC’s decision was not erroneous in light of the evidence presented at the hearing.


For the foregoing reasons, the guilty verdict entered by DOC against Appellant Willie Sease, #281519, is AFFIRMED.





April 4, 2003

Columbia, South Carolina

Brown Bldg.






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