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Washington DOC May Not Conduct Rehearing of Infraction Being Challenged in Collateral Attack

Washington DOC May Not Conduct Rehearing of Infraction Being Challenged in
Collateral Attack

The Washington Court of Appeals, Division III, held that the Department of
Corrections (DOC) may not conduct a rehearing of a prison disciplinary
infraction being challenged via a personal restraint petition. (A personal
restraint petition is Washington's version of a habeas corpus petition).
This decision appears to be the first of its kind.

On February 6, 2002, prisoner John Leland received a WAC 752 infraction for
a urinalysis test that allegedly contained cocaine. Leland requested
witness statements from the guards responsible for collecting the urine
sample in order to prove his claim that the sample cup had been left
unattended in an area accessible to prisoners and staff alike. These
statements were not produced at Leland's February 7 disciplinary hearing.
Leland was found guilty of the infraction and sanctioned 90 days loss of
good time credits.

Leland unsuccessfully appealed the guilty finding to the prison
superintendent and then filed a personal restraint petition in the Court of
Appeals, alleging that his due process rights were violated when his
witness statements were not produced at the disciplinary hearing. The court
served the petition and ordered the DOC to respond to its merits. Rather
than comply with the court's order, the DOC submitted a response stating
that the petition was moot because it had decided to rehear the infraction.
The court rejected this response and again directed the DOC to address the
merits of Leland's petition. The DOC complied with the court's second
order, conceded that Leland's original hearing was unconstitutional, but
nonetheless argued that conducting a rehearing had cured the error. The
court appointed counsel for Leland and ordered the parties to submit briefs
addressing whether the DOC had jurisdiction to conduct a rehearing while
Leland's petition was pending.

After briefing and oral argument, the court issued an opinion squarely
rejecting the DOC's purported authority to conduct a rehearing of an
infraction that is the subject of a pending personal restraint petition.
The court reasoned that Title 16 of Washington's Rules of Appellate
Procedure provided the state appellate courts with exclusive jurisdiction
over petitions challenging prison disciplinary proceedings. Moreover, the
court noted that nothing in the statutes or regulations authorizing the DOC
to issue infractions, hold disciplinary hearings or conduct administrative
appeals permitted it to rehear an infraction once that infraction was
challenged via a personal restraint petition. Thus, the court held the DOC
"acted outside its jurisdiction" by conducting a rehearing of Leland's
infraction, and further determined that the result of the rehearing was a

The court further concluded that Leland was entitled to relief on the
merits of his petition. As the DOC conceded, Leland's due process rights
were violated when the hearing officer refused to obtain his requested
witness statements. Additionally, the court held that the evidence
presented at the original hearing was insufficient to establish guilt.
Leland's petition was therefore granted, his good time was restored, and
the DOC was prohibited from conducting yet another hearing. See In re PRP
of Leland, 115 Wash.App. 517, 61 P.3d 357 (Wash.App. Div.3 2003).
NOTE: In a subsequent ruling abrogating Leland, the Washington Supreme
Court held that the DOC does have jurisdiction to conduct rehearings of
disciplinary infractions, and such rehearings do not constitute double
jeopardy. See: In re Higgins, 95 P.3d 330, 152 Wash.2d 155, (Wash. 2004).

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