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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
James Padgett, #233499 vs. SCDOC

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Corrections

PARTIES:
Appellant:
James Padgett, #233499

Respondent:
South Carolina Department of Corrections
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
01-ALJ-04-01531-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER

I. STATEMENT OF CASE

This matter is before the Administrative Law Judge Division ("Division") pursuant to the appeal of James Padgett, an inmate incarcerated with the Department of Corrections ("Department"). On September 10, 2001, Padgett was convicted of violating SCDC Disciplinary Code 1.10, Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana or Unauthorized Prescription Drugs after pleading guilty to the charge. As a result of his conviction, Padgett lost 30 days of "good-time" credit. Padgett filed a grievance with the Department and received the Department's final decision on December 5, 2001. On December 13, 2001, Padgett filed this appeal.

II. BACKGROUND

On August 29, 2001, at the Newberry County Detention Center, Padgett was administered a random drug test for marijuana and cocaine. Padgett tested positive for marijuana. A confirmation test performed on Padgett's urine sample also tested positive.

After the incident, Officer Connie Snipes, who administered the drug test, completed an Incident Report and submitted it to his supervisor. Padgett was charged with violating SCDC Code 1.10, Use or Possession of Narcotics, Marijuana or Unauthorized Drugs. Padgett received written notice of the charges on September 4, 2001. The hearing was held on September 10, 2001, before a Disciplinary Hearing Officer ("DHO"), who read into the Record Officer Snipes Incident Report. During the hearing, Padgett, who was represented by counsel substitute, pleaded guilty to the charge and stated that he did so on the advice of his counsel substitute. Padgett also stated that he did not smoke marijuana, but may have tested positive because he was exposed to the second-hand marijuana smoke of other inmates daily. In addition, although Mr. Snipes was present at the hearing via telephone, the DHO did not ask him to testify. Padgett did not object. Neither did Padgett ask to question Mr. Snipes himself. At the conclusion of the hearing, the DHO informed Williams that his guilty plea had been accepted and that he would be sanctioned with the loss of 30 days of good time credit.

After the hearing, the DHO completed a Major Disciplinary Report and Hearing Record ("Hearing Record"), which documented the DHO's findings based on Padgett's guilty plea. In addition, the Hearing Record reflects that Padgett lost only 30 days of good-time credit because it was his first offense and he pleaded guilty to the charge.

Padgett filed a grievance on October 16, 2001, appealing his conviction of violating SCDC 1.10, alleging that the officer identified in the Incident Report as a witness to Padgett's drug test had not witnessed it. In addition, Padgett alleges that he pleaded guilty because his counsel substitute told him that he would lose only 30 days' good time if he did so. Finally, Padgett alleges that he questioned the DHO whether his guilty plea would affect his custody status, to which the DHO replied, "it will not." On October 31, 2001, the Warden denied his grievance, citing Padgett's guilty plea. On November 13, 2001, Padgett appealed the warden's decision, asking that the 1.10 charge be dropped to a minor. The Department denied his grievance, stating that Department policy prohibited an appeal of a guilty plea unless the sanction levied exceeded Department guidelines. This appeal followed. In his Appeal Brief, Padgett alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, that the DHO "predetermined" his guilt, and that the evidence against him was unsupported and undisclosed. III. ANALYSIS

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). On September 5, 2001, the Division issued an En Banc Order in McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP (September 5, 2001), interpreting the breadth of its jurisdiction pursuant to Al-Shabazz. The 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, Padgett alleges that he lost 30 days of good time and had his custody status changed after he pleaded guilty to a prison disciplinary infraction. As such, I find that this tribunal has jurisdiction to hear Williams's appeal.

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," Stono River Envtl. Protection Ass'n v. S.C. Dept. Of Health and Envtl. Control, 305 S.C. 90, 94, 406 S.E.2d 30, 341 (1991), certain elements must be satisfied in order for procedural due process requirements to be met, 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).

As in all cases subject to appellate review by the Division, the standard of 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 unless the agency's determination is 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) (Supp. 1999); Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 380, 527 S.E.2d at 756; Lark v. Bi-Lo, Inc., 276 S.C. 130, 276 S.E.2d 304 (1981). Moreover, to afford "meaningful judicial review," the Administrative Law Judge must "adequately explain" his decision by "documenting the findings of fact" and basing his decision on "reliable, probative, and substantial evidence on the whole record." Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 380, 527 S.E.2d at 756.

I find that Williams was afforded all process due him pursuant to Al-Shabazz. The Record indicates that Williams was given written notice of the charges in excess of 24 hours prior to his hearing before an impartial hearing officer. In addition, although not constitutionally required, Williams was afforded counsel substitute to assist him in his defense. Further, Williams was given the opportunity to offer evidence and witnesses. Williams' accuser was present at the hearing, testified and was subject to cross-examination. The DHO prepared a written report detailing the evidence he relied upon and the penalty assessed in finding Williams guilty of the disciplinary infraction. Finally, Williams was permitted to appeal the DHO's decision through the inmate grievance process.

Moreover, despite Padgett's complaints regarding his counsel substitute, the DHO's "predetermination" of his guilt, and the allegedly undisclosed evidence, there is no escaping the fact that Padgett pleaded guilty to the charge, by his own admission voluntarily and uncoerced. Moreover, Padgett failed to raise any of these issues to the DHO during his hearing. An inmate cannot sit silently during a hearing, raising no objections, and then raise issues such as these for the first time on appeal. Accordingly, Padgett's appeal is dismissed.

. V. ORDER

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

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.



_________________________________________

C. DUKES SCOTT

ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE



April 16, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina


Brown Bldg.

 

 

 

 

 

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