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Washington Prisoner's Uninformed Disciplinary Plea Agreement Upheld

The Washington Court of Appeals, Division I, upheld a prisoner's disciplinary plea agreement even though his punishment was more extensive than what he had agreed to. The agreement was only upheld, however, because no good time was taken.

Garridan Nelson, a Washington state prisoner in the Airway Heights Correctional Center, was cited for a disciplinary violation after guards found a watch belonging to another prisoner in his hobby craft storage box. Before a hearing was conducted, Nelson agreed to enter a guilty pleawhich involved waiving his right to a hearing and an administrative appeal--in exchange for a punishment of 10 days cell confinement. But instead of honoring the agreement, prison officials suspended Nelson from both his prison job and the hobby shop, took 5 custody points, and barred him from requesting transfer to another prison for 1 year.

In response, Nelson filed, a pro se personal restraint petition on March 17, 2003, challenging the plea agreement. Specifically, Nelson contended that because he was never informed about the possible consequences of the plea agreement, he was entitled to choose between specific enforcement or withdrawal of the agreement.

The Court of Appeals (COA) disagreed. The COA first observed that prisoners do not share the same due process protections as criminal defendants. In Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995), the Supreme Court held that a prisoner's constitutionally protected rights are implicated only when he or she faces restraint that imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.'" Loss of good time is such a restraint, the COA noted.
Relying on the Sandin standard, the COA noted that Nelson had lost no good time. The Court then held that the disciplinary sanctions resulting from Nelson's uninformed guilty plea did not rise to the level of atypical and significant hardship" because they were within the expected parameters of his sentence. Moreover, there was no indication the disciplinary infraction itself would have lasting or significant consequences because, by the time his petition was reviewed, Nelson's hobby privileges and custody points had been reinstated and he once again had a job. Thus, the Court denied his petition. See: PRP of Nelson, Washington Court of Appeals, Division I, Case No. 51992-1-T (unpublished).

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