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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

Antonio Wilcher, #228652 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Antonio Wilcher, #228652

South Carolina Department of Corrections





This matter is before the Administrative Law Judge Division (ALJD or Division) pursuant to the appeal of Antonio Wilcher, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections (DOC or Department). Wilcher was convicted of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code 2.10, Fighting without a Weapon. As a result of his conviction, The Appellant lost thirty (30) days of "good-time" credit. Wilcher filed a grievance with the Department and on August 29, 2000, received the Department's final decision from the Department. On September 18, 2000, Wilcher filed this appeal.


On May 12, 2000, Officer Orvin, a DOC employee, ordered the inmates on his "labor crew" to begin loading into the Department's van. As he walking to the rear of the van, he observed the Appellant and another inmate involved in a scuffle. Officer Orvin ordered then to stop fighting but they continued wrestling with each other. He again gave them an order to stop fighting and at that point they separated, cursing at each other in the process. Following the incident, Officer Orvin completed an Incident Report and submitted it to his supervisor. The Appellant was charged with violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 2.10, Fighting without a Weapon. The Appellant received written notice of the charges on May 20, 2000. On May 22, 2000, the Appellant was brought before a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) to face the Fighting without a Weapon charge in a Major Disciplinary Hearing. At the Appellant's request, he was represented by counsel substitute during the hearing. Additionally, at the Appellant's request, Officer Orvin was present at the hearing.

During the hearing, the DHO read a narrative of Officer Orvin's Incident Report into the Record and received testimony from several witnesses as evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the DHO found that the Appellant was guilty of Fighting without a Weapon and sanctioned him with the loss of thirty (30) days of good time credit. After the hearing, the DHO completed a Major Disciplinary Report and Hearing Record, which documented the DHO's findings. The Appellant filed a grievance on May 23, 2000, appealing his conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 2.10.

After reviewing his allegation, the Warden denied the Appellant's grievance on June 20, 2000. Afterwards, the Appellant appealed the Warden's decision on June 26, 2000 asking that the Department reverse his loss of "good time" credits. The Department denied his grievance, stating that the evidence supported the conviction and that the sanction imposed was appropriate for the violation that the Appellant committed. This appeal followed.

In his Brief for Appellant, the Appellant argues that the Department erred in finding him guilty. (1) The Appellant also contends that he should have been provided the tape recording of the disciplinary hearing to prepare his case. However, his request to review the hearing tapes was made on October 2, 2000, after the Appellant had exhausted the inmate grievance process with the Department and after this appeal was pending before the Division. The Department filed the transcript of the disciplinary hearing with the Division on October 16, 2000 and served the same on the Appellant, as evidenced by the Department's Certificate of Service.


The Division'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). In McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP (September 5, 2001) the Division issued an En Banc Order interpreting the breadth of its jurisdiction pursuant to Al-Shabazz. That decision holds that the Division's appellate jurisdiction in inmate appeals is limited to two types of cases: (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 the Department has taken an inmate's created liberty interest as punishment in a major disciplinary hearing.

In this case, the Appellant alleges that the Department excessively revoked thirty (30) days of 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 hearings" involving "more serious rule violations," prison officials must provide that inmate with "minimal due process." Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 370, 527 S.E.2d 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. Al-Shabazz, 527 S.E.2d at 751, citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-72, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 2978-82 (1974).

In Al-Shabazz, the Court held that inmates may seek review before this Division to ensure that the Department's revocation of good-time credits as punishment in a "major disciplinary hearing" involving "more serious rule violations" comports with "minimal due process." The ALJD inquiry into these matters is primarily concerned with ensuring that the Department has granted aggrieved inmates the process they are due when their constitutional rights are implicated. Id. When reviewing the Department's decisions in inmate grievance matters, the ALJD sits in an appellate capacity. Id. Consequently, the review in these inmate grievance cases is limited to the record presented. Furthermore, an Administrative Law Judge may not substitute his judgment for that of an agency unless the agency's determination is arbitrary, affected by error of law, or is clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative, and substantial evidence in the whole record. S.C. Code Ann. § 1-23-380(A)(6) (1986 & Supp. 2001); Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 380, 527 S.E.2d at 756. "'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). Furthermore, 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, that the Courts and therefore this Division adhere to a "hands off" approach to internal prison disciplinary policies and procedures when reviewing inmate appeals under the APA. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 382, 527 S.E.2d 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).

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.

Moreover, I find that there is substantial evidence to support the Appellant's conviction of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code § 2.10, Fighting without a Weapon. A Code 2.10 violation is: "Any group of two or more inmates who engage in a physical altercation." The record clearly supports the facts recited in the "Background" portion of this Order. Those facts establish substantial evidence that the Appellant engaged in a "physical altercation" with another inmate.


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



Ralph K. Anderson, III

Administrative Law Judge

July 22, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

1. The Appellant also argues that the Department erred in not allowing him to appear before the Classification Committee. That issue is not properly before this Division. See "Analysis" portion of this Order, infra; See McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP (September 5, 2001).

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