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Alabama Clarifies Prisoners Right to Call Witnesses At Disciplinary Hearing

Alabama Clarifies Prisoners Right to Call Witnesses At Disciplinary Hearing

by Matthew T. Clarke

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama held that prison officials may not use excuses such as off duty or unable to reach by phone to deny prisoners witnesses at disciplinary hearings.

Lebron Luster, an Alabama state prisoner, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in state district court when he was convicted of a disciplinary violation after prison officials refused to allow two witnesses to testify for him at the disciplinary hearing. Following the filing of the states response, the district court summarily dismissed the petition. Luster appealed.

Luster was found guilty of violating Rule # E9, Regulation # 403 (absconding -- absent without permission). His punishment included loss of privileges for 45 days and a referral for custody review. Luster alleged that he was removed from work release because of the disciplinary violation. The Alabama Supreme Court had previously held that prisoners have a liberty interest in remaining on work release. Ex parte Berry, 794 So.2d 307 (Ala. 2000).

One of Lusters requested witnesses was his work supervisor. During the disciplinary hearing, prison officials allegedly made a hurried, last-minute telephone call but were unable to reach the supervisor. They wrote not available on the disciplinary report explaining the denial of the witnesses.

An inmate facing a disciplinary proceeding should be allowed to call witnesses in his defense, when doing so will not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 61 L.Ed.2d 935 (1976). Denying the presence of a witness because of the mere fact that the requested witness is off duty or cannot be reached by phone does not comport with those due process rights afforded in both Williams v. Davis, 386 So.2d 615 (Ala. 1980) and Wolff, supra. Lewis v. State, 485 So.2d 81 (Ala.Cr.App. 1986), quoting Ex parte Bland, 441 So.2d 122 (Ala. 1983).

Merely writing that a witness is not available on the disciplinary form does not satisfy the requirement that specific findings of fact be made regarding the reason a witness is not available. Thus, if his allegations were true, the appellate court found that Luster was entitled to a new disciplinary hearing. The lower courts dismissal was reversed and the case returned to the district court with instructions to set aside its order of dismissal, conduct a hearing to determine why the witnesses werent available, make specific findings of fact thereon, and order a new disciplinary hearing for Luster if the reasons did not comport with Wolff. The district clerk was instructed to forward a transcript of the hearing and the district courts findings to the Court of Criminal Appeals within 42 days of the release of the opinion. See: Luster v. State, 926 So. 2d 1080 (Al. 2005) and 2004 Ala.Crim.App. Lexis 159.

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Related legal case

Luster v. State

Lebron Luster v. State



926 So. 2d 1080; 2005 Ala. Crim. App. LEXIS 1208

June 10, 2005, Decided


PRIOR HISTORY: Luster v. State, 2004 Ala. Crim. App. (Ala. Crim. App., Aug. 27, 2004)