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Florida Prisoners Have Right to Present Evidence at Disciplinary Hearings

Florida Prisoners Have Right To Present Evidence At Disciplinary Hearings

A Florida state appellate court held that a denial by prison authorities of an opportunity for a prisoner to present exculpatory evidence at a prison disciplinary hearing states a claim for a denial of due process. The court rejected the Florida DOC's alternate theory of culpability approach to review.

A Florida state prisoner was charged in a prison disciplinary action with having violated the prison's barber shop rule by shaving his head. At a disciplinary hearing the prisoner was denied the ability to present unspecified exculpatory evidence that he did not violate the rule. The basis for the denial was that the evidence was not germane to the charge. The prisoner was found guilty.

After exhausting his administrative remedies through the DOC grievance procedure, the prisoner petitioned the Leon County circuit court for a writ of mandamus to compel the DOC to accord him the process he was due. In response to the trial court's order to show cause, the DOC "acknowledged that the barber shop rule should not have been applied to [a prisoner] who shaved his own head." However, the DOC argued that the prisoner was "properly disciplined because another institutional rule precluded [him] from shaving his head." Based on this claim the trial court denied the petition.

The Florida DOC grooming rule simply requires male prisoners to "have their hair cut short to medium uniform length at all times." Obviously, a shaved head falls within these parameters. However, there is also a provision that proscribes designs "that would call attention to the inmate or separate inmates into groups based upon style." Fla. Admin. Code r. 33-3.002(11). Although this policy is generally loosely enforced, several prisons, primarily those located in North Florida, prohibit white prisoners from shaving their heads on the pretense that it may be a sign of a skinhead. Ironically, there is almost a rabid insistence, especially in North Florida prisons, that Florida prisoners have their facial hair clean shaven at all times.

The appeals court noted that the prisoner's petition described the evidence which he attempted to present at the disciplinary hearing, and which he was not permitted to proffer because it was not pertinent to the violation of the barber shop rule. However, the court recognized that the excluded evidence did address the enforcement of the alternate rule upon which the DOC rested its post hoc liability claim. Since the change in the basis for the discipline adversely impacted the prisoner's due process rights, the court of appeals reversed and remanded.

Since it is well established that due process mandates that prisoners be allowed to present evidence at prison disciplinary hearings, Wolff v. McDonnell , 418 U.S. 539, 565-66 (1974), insofar as there are no exigent reasons for excluding it, this case is remarkable only to the extent that it exposes the cavalier way the Florida DOC administers discipline, and the ease with which state trial courts approve such unconstitutional practices. See: Munn v. State , 694 So.2d 92 (Fla. App. 1 Dist. 1997).

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Related legal case

Munn v. State

05/07/97 Thomas a. Munn, v. State of Florida,


[2] CASE NO. 96-406

[3] 1997

[4] Opinion filed May 6, 1997.



[7] An appeal from Circuit Court for Leon County.

[8] Philip J. Padovano, Judge.

[9] ALLEN, J.

[10] The appellant challenges the denial of a petition for a writ of mandamus, by which he contested disciplinary action taken by the Department of Corrections (the department). The appellant is a prison inmate who was disciplined for shaving his head, and the disciplinary team found this to be a violation of the institution's barber shop rule. After the appellant petitioned for mandamus the department acknowledged that the barber shop rule should not have been applied to an inmate who shaved his own head, but the department asserted that the appellant was nevertheless properly disciplined because another institutional rule precluded the appellant from shaving his head. Although the court accepted the department's position in denying relief, in his pleadings below the appellant described evidence which he attempted to present at the disciplinary hearing and which was not allowed because it was not pertinent to a violation of the barber shop rule. Because this evidence addresses the enforcement of the rule upon which the department now relies, this change in the basis of the discipline adversely impacts the appellant's due process rights. The appealed order is therefore reversed, and the case is remanded.