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Lee v. Haney

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

March 24, 2017

CHRISTOPHER LEE APPELLANT
v.
STEVE HANEY, WARDEN; DUNCAN KENDALL, ADJUSTMENT OFFICER; AND THE KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE THOMAS L. CLARK, JUDGE ACTION NO. 15-CI-01947

          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: Christopher Lee, Pro Se Sandy Hook, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Angela T. Dunham Justice & Public Safety Cabinet Frankfort, Kentucky

          BEFORE: KRAMER, CHIEF JUDGE; ACREE AND D. LAMBERT, JUDGES.

          OPINION REVERSING AND REMANDING

          ACREE, JUDGE:

         Christopher Lee appeals pro se from the Fayette Circuit Court's August 27, 2015 Order dismissing his petition for a declaration of rights. We must decide if the circuit court abused its discretion when it found Lee had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. We reverse and remand for additional proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURE

         Lee was an inmate at the Blackburn Correctional Complex. While there, Officer Michael Ammons and Sergeant Marcus Christison conducted a standard area search of Lee and another inmate. The officers found a pair of white shoes containing "a small baggie and [four] rolled up pieces of paper containing a green leafy substance" under Lee's bed. Both inmates denied owning the shoes. According to Officer Ammons's written incident report, the "green leafy substance [was] identified by the NARK2 test as SPICE[, [1]" a substance classified as dangerous contraband by the prison. (R. 19). No test results were made part of the administrative or judicial record. A brief investigation was conducted, during which Officer Ammons and Sergeant Christison both confirmed that the written incident report was true and accurately depicted the incident and their findings.

         Prison officials charged Lee with two violations: (1) possession or promoting of dangerous contraband; and (2) smuggling of contraband items into, out of, or within the institution. CPP[2] 15.2(II)(C)(VI)(3), (IV)(5). A prison disciplinary hearing was held on April 6, 2015. Lee testified in his defense.[3] He denied ownership of the spice and the shoes, and denied knowing why the shoes were under his bed. The adjustment officer, relying on the incident report and statements by Officer Ammons and Sergeant Christison, found Lee guilty of both charges. Lee forfeited 260 days good-time credit and was sentenced to ninety days of disciplinary segregation, suspended for 180 days.

         As a result of the disciplinary action, Lee was transferred from Blackburn to the Little Sandy Correctional Complex, a medium-security facility. There, Lee, with the assistance of an inmate legal aid, prepared his appeal to the Blackburn Warden.[4] Lee dated the appeal April 13, 2015, and at some point placed it in the mail. The Warden's office received Lee's appeal on April 22, 2015. The Warden subsequently notified Lee by letter that his appeal would not be considered because it was not received on or before April 21, 2015, fifteen days from the hearing date as required by CPP 15.6(II)(F)(3).

         Lee then filed a petition for declaration of rights in Fayette Circuit Court. He challenged the result of the prison disciplinary hearing, claiming his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated because: (1) there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction because: (a) the test result concerning the spice was unreliable, and (b) the shoes were found in a common area; and (2) the charges were impermissibly "stacked." Lee also stated in his declarations petition he placed his appeal to the Warden in the mail on April 14, 2015, a full week before it was due on April 21, 2015. In support, Lee attached to his petition: (1) an inmate money transfer order presumably for postage dated April 13, 2015; (2) an affidavit from the inmate legal aid averring Lee signed, dated, and put his appeal into an envelope appropriately addressed to the Warden on April 13, 2015, and that it was his understanding Lee mailed the appeal the next day; and (3) his own affidavit averring he prepared and signed the appeal on April 13, 2015 and placed the appeal, with sufficient first-class postage, in the prison mailbox on April 14, 2015.

         The circuit court denied Lee's petition, finding Lee had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by KRS[5] 454.415. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Prison disciplinary proceedings are administrative, rather than criminal, in nature. While inmates retain rights under the Due Process Clause of the United States and Kentucky Constitutions, a defendant in a prison disciplinary proceeding is not entitled to "the full panoply of rights due a defendant" in a criminal proceeding. See Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2975, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974); Smith v. O'Dea, 939 S.W.2d 353, 357-58 (Ky. App. 1997). In general, the minimal due process requirements in a prison disciplinary hearing include: (1) advance written notice of the claimed violation; (2) an opportunity to call witnesses and present a defense "when permitting him to do so will not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals"; and (3) a written statement by the fact finder detailing the evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 563-67, 94 S.Ct. at 2978-80; Webb v. Sharp, 223 S.W.3d 113, 117-18 (Ky. 2007). Further speaking generally, ...


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