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“Defense of Another” Not Applicable to Prison Disciplinary Defense

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that it is no defense to a prison disciplinary charge for battery that the blows were struck to prevent the further stabbing of a third person.

Aaron B. Scruggs, an Indiana state prisoner, filed a federal habeas corpus action challenging his disciplinary conviction for battery that resulted in loss of credit time, reduction in credit-time-earning class, and three months of solitary confinement. The undisputed facts were that Scruggs saw prisoner Marty Robbins stabbing prisoner Richard Carrizales and intervened by striking Robbins “a couple of frantic hard hits with his cane,” causing Robbins to abandon the attack and throw his shank out a window. Robbins was subsequently hospitalized.

Scruggs offered a defense-of-others argument as his defense, which was rejected by the Conduct Adjustment Board (CAB) and on subsequent administrative appeals. The federal district court denied Scruggs’ habeas petition on the merits and he appealed.

The Seventh Circuit held that a prison disciplinary board is not a court and therefore the AEDPA’s deferential standard of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) does not apply. Reviewing the CAB’s decision de novo, the Seventh Circuit held that Scruggs had no substantive due process right to a defense-of-others claim in his prison disciplinary hearing.

The defense-of-others defense in state criminal statutes cannot be used to create a constitutional defense-of-others right. The CAB did not dispute Scruggs’ claim that he struck Robbins to protect Carrizales; it simply decided that disciplinary punishment was still warranted.

Scruggs had no fundamental right to protect others, the appellate court found. If he wanted to help Carrizales he should have summoned a guard, which would have been consistent with the fundamental goal of reducing violence in prisons. The judgment of the district court was affirmed. See: Scruggs v. Jordan, 485 F.3d 934 (7th Cir. 2007).

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Related legal case

Scruggs v. Jordan