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Shamar Ravenel #211756 vs. SCDOC

South Carolina Department of Corrections

Shamar Ravenel #211756

South Carolina Department of Corrections





These cases come before the Administrative Law Judge Division (ALJD or Division) pursuant to the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). In the first case, Appellant Shamar Ravenel appeals the decision of the South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC or Department) to revoke 410 days of his "good-time" credit as punishment for striking a DOC employee and possessing crack cocaine in violation of DOC Disciplinary Code §§ 1.03 and 1.10, respectively. In the second, Appellant challenges the Department's subsequent decision to suspend his contact visits for two years as a result of his disciplinary conviction. As the validity of one disciplinary conviction lies at the heart of both of these appeals, the two-above captioned cases are hereby consolidated for all purposes. (1) Having reviewed the record, applicable law, and the briefs filed by the parties in this matter, I conclude that this case must be remanded to the Department for it to reconsider the disciplinary sanction imposed on Appellant in light of this Order.


On January 7, 2001, Officer Albert Smith was conducting a strip search of Appellant when he observed what appeared to be a plastic object in Appellant's right hand. Officer Smith then ordered Appellant to open his hand. Appellant, however, refused to open his hand and attempted to run out of the room where the search was being conducted. Officer Smith then attempted to restrain Appellant, and, after a struggle, he was able to restrain Appellant with the assistance of Officer Donald Adcox. During the struggle, Officer Smith's right hand was scraped several times and his glasses were bent. Once Appellant had been restrained, Officer Smith recovered a tan, rock-like substance that was later tested and determined to be crack cocaine. As a result of the incident and the discovery of the cocaine, Appellant was charged with violating DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.03, Striking an Employee with or without a Weapon, and § 1.10, The Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana or Unauthorized Drugs, Including Prescription Drugs.

A hearing of these charges was held on January 16, 2001, before a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO). At the hearing, Officer Smith testified that Appellant did not strike him during the struggle and that the scratches on his hand likely came from hitting his hand against a wall as he tried to grab Appellant. At the close of the hearing, the DHO found Appellant guilty of both charges and revoked 410 days of Appellant's good-time credit as punishment for the offenses. Appellant appealed his convictions to the Department and then to this tribunal. On appeal, Appellant contends, generally, that the Department failed to follow its own procedures in the disciplinary proceedings, that the final decision of the DHO was not based on the law, and that the decision violates his constitutional rights.


In Al-Shabazz, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that inmates may seek review of final decisions of the Department in certain "non-collateral" or administrative matters (i.e., those matters in which an inmate does not challenge the validity of a conviction or sentence) by appealing those decisions to the ALJD pursuant to the South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 376, 527 S.E.2d at 754. In McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, a majority of the judges of the ALJD, sitting en banc, held that this tribunal's jurisdiction to hear inmate appeals under Al-Shabazz is limited to: (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. McNeil v. S.C. Dep't of Corrections, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, slip op. at 4-5 (S.C. Admin. Law Judge. Div. Sept. 5, 2001) (en banc). In the case at hand, Appellant contends that the Department improperly revoked 410 days of his good-time credit as punishment in a major disciplinary hearing; accordingly, this tribunal has jurisdiction over this matter.

When reviewing the Department's decisions in inmate grievance matters, the ALJD sits in an appellate capacity. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 377, 527 S.E.2d at 754. Consequently, this tribunal's review of inmate appeals is confined to the record presented, id., and its 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. at 369, 527 S.E.2d at 750; McNeil, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, at 5 ("[O]ur review is limited solely to the determination of whether the Department granted 'minimal due process' in reaching [its] decisions . . . ."). Further, recognizing that prison officials are in the best position to decide inmate disciplinary matters, this tribunal will adhere to the traditional "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). However, notwithstanding this deferential standard of review, this tribunal must conduct meaningful review of the Department's actions to ensure that inmate grievances are addressed in a fair, reasonable, and efficient manner. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 383, 527 S.E.2d at 757.

In the present case, Appellant contends that the Department's decision to revoke his good-time credit was made in violation of his due process rights. Because inmates have a protected liberty interest in their earned statutory good-time credits under the Fourteenth Amendment, they are entitled to "minimum procedures appropriate under the circumstances and required by the Due Process clause to insure that the state-created right is not arbitrarily abrogated." Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557 (1974). Thus, where, as here, an inmate faces the revocation of good-time credits as punishment in a disciplinary hearing, prison officials must provide that inmate with certain procedural safeguards. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 370, 527 S.E.2d at 750. (2) These procedural safeguards include:

(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.

Id. at 371, 527 S.E.2d at 751 (paraphrasing Wolff). Beyond these procedural requirements, the United States Supreme Court has held that the revocation of an inmate's good-time credits does not comport with Due Process unless "there [is] some evidence from which the conclusion of the [prison official] could be deduced." Superintendent, Mass. Corr. Inst. v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985). (3) Thus, if the Department affords the inmate a Wolff-type hearing and has at least some evidence in the record to support its decision, the Department's revocation of an inmate's good-time credits satisfies the requirements of due process.

In the disciplinary proceedings underlying the instant appeal, Appellant was afforded a proper Wolff-type disciplinary hearing. The record indicates that Appellant received written notice of the charges against him in excess of twenty-four hours prior to a hearing that was held before an impartial Disciplinary Hearing Officer. At the hearing, Appellant was given the opportunity, through a counsel substitute, to offer evidence, call witnesses, and confront his accuser. The DHO prepared a written statement of the evidence he relied upon in reaching his decision and the reasons for the sanctions he imposed on Appellant. After his conviction, Appellant filed a grievance and received a prompt response from his warden, which Appellant then appealed to the Department. In its denial of his appeal, the Department informed Appellant of his right to appeal the Department's final decision under the APA. Further, there is sufficient evidence in the record to support Appellant's disciplinary conviction for the possession of crack cocaine in violation of DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.10, The Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana, or Unauthorized Drugs, Including Prescription Drugs.

There is not, however, sufficient evidence to support Appellant's conviction for striking a DOC employee. DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.03 defines the offense of striking an employee as the "willful causing of bodily injury to a [DOC] employee with or without a weapon." Generally, an act is "willful" if it is "[v]oluntary and intentional, but not necessarily malicious." Black's Law Dictionary 1593 (7th ed. 1999). Thus, an inmate is only guilty of a violation of Section 1.03 if he intentionally causes bodily injury to a DOC employee. Here, while it is apparent that Appellant's actions in resisting seizure by the corrections officers did cause bodily injury to Officer Smith, it is equally apparent that such injuries were not intentionally caused. Officer Smith specifically testified that Appellant did not strike him and that his injuries were likely caused by scraping his hand against the wall while trying to hold onto Appellant as he tried to go around a corner. (Hr'g Tr. at 4.) The written reports submitted by Officer Smith and the other officers involved in the incident are consistent with this description of how Officer Smith received his injuries. There is no evidence in the record in this matter to support a finding that Appellant intentionally caused injuries to Officer Smith during their struggle, and therefore, no evidence to support a conviction for a violation of DOC Disciplinary Code § 1.03. (4)

While the Department provided Appellant with the procedure required by Wolff in the disciplinary proceedings underlying this appeal, it failed to provide sufficient evidentiary support for its decision to find Appellant guilty of striking an employee in violation of Section 1.03. Therefore, with respect to that charge, the Department failed to provide Appellant with the due process required by the Fourteenth Amendment and Appellant's conviction of that charge must be reversed. However, Appellant's conviction for the possession of crack cocaine did comply with the requirements of due process and must be upheld. As the DHO's revocation of Appellant's good-time credit did not apportion the credits revoked for each of the two convictions, this matter must be remanded to the Department for a reconsideration of the sanction imposed upon Appellant in light of the reversal of his conviction for striking an employee.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that this matter is REMANDED to the Department for it to determine the proper sanction to be imposed on Appellant for his valid conviction for the possession of crack cocaine, standing alone.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, upon this remand, this matter is DISMISSED from the docket of the ALJD.



Administrative Law Judge

June 19, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

1. See Note, ALJD Rule 40 ("The South Carolina Appellate Court Rules should be examined to resolve novel issues of appellate procedure in the Division."); Rule 214, SCACR ("Where there is more than one appeal from the same order, judgment, or decree, or where the same question is involved in to or more appeals in different cases, the appellate court may, in its discretion, order the appeal to be consolidated.").

2. However, this set of safeguards is necessarily a limited one. See Wolff, 418 U.S. at 560 ("[I]t is immediately apparent that one cannot automatically apply procedural rules designed for free citizens in an open society . . . to the very different situation presented by a disciplinary proceeding in a state prison.").

3. This review "does not require examination of the entire record, independent assessment of the credibility of witnesses, or weighing of the evidence," Hill, 472 U.S. at 455; rather, this standard only requires this tribunal to determine whether "there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the [prison official]." Id. at 455-56.

4. It appears that rather than charging Appellant with striking an employee in violation of Section 1.03, the Department should have charged Appellant with a violation of DOC Disciplinary Code § 2.13, Refusing or Failing to Obey Orders, an offense that specifically includes "resisting arrest" within its definition.

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