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Fifth Circuit: Texas Prisoners Cannot be Disciplined for Trust Fund Deposits Initiated by Others

by Matthew T. Clarke

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that prison officials must introduce evidence that a prisoner participated in a monetary transfer before they can discipline him for trafficking and trading due to third-party trust fund deposits.

Hubert Earl Teague, a Texas state prisoner, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging disciplinary charges filed against him that led to a loss of good conduct time credits. Teague was found guilty of a Code 15.0 disciplinary offense, which was based upon his having received $225 that another prisoner, Melvin Jordan, arranged for a third party to deposit in Teague’s trust fund account.

The offense report specified that Jordan had the money placed on Teague’s account to pay for legal work that Teague had done for him. The offense report, a copy of the $225 cashier’s check and Teague’s trust fund transaction records were introduced into evidence.
Jordan testified that he had the money placed on Teague’s account. Teague testified that he had no knowledge of and did not participate in the deposit of the funds. Teague was found guilty. He exhausted his step one and two grievances, then filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging the disciplinary hearing.

The district court appointed Dallas federal public defender Jason Douglas Hawkins to represent Teague. It then held an evidentiary hearing and found there was no evidence to support the guilty finding. The court granted relief. However, the defendants filed a Rule 59(e) motion requesting reconsideration, alleging that the 30-day loss of good conduct time was de minimus – an injury too slight to be granted due process protection.

The court granted the motion and dismissed the petition on the basis of the injury being de minimus. See: Teague v. Dretke, 384 F.Supp.2d 999 (N.D. Tex. 2005). Teague appealed.

The Fifth Circuit noted the district court’s decision was understandable as it flowed from dictum in two previous Fifth Circuit opinions which indicated a small loss of good time might be de minimus. The appellate court held that because Teague was entitled to mandatory supervision release, he had a liberty interest protected by due process in all of his good conduct time credits. The Fifth Circuit also held that the expectation of early release and due process protection for good conduct time credits extended to post-Sept. 1, 1996 discretionary mandatory release.

Repudiating the dictum in Malchi v. Thaler, 211 F.3d 953 (5th Cir. 2000) and Richards v. Dretke, 394 F.3d 291 (5th Cir. 2004), which indicated there might be an amount of good time credit loss that was de minimus, the Fifth Circuit held that due process must be afforded to prisoners no matter how few credits are forfeited. The opinion listed 15 Texas federal district court cases that had been wrongly decided on this issue.

The appellate court rejected the defendants’ claim that the Code 15.0 offense involved strict liability and thus did not require the knowledge of the party receiving the funds. The disciplinary proceeding proved Jordan made an unauthorized deposit. It did not prove that Teague knowingly had any part in the transaction. Therefore, Teague could not be punished for it. The case was returned to the district court with instructions to reinstate the original judgment granting relief. See: Teague v. Quarterman, 482 F.3d 769 (5th Cir. 2007).

Additional Source: Huntsville, Texas Attorney Yolanda M. Torress (analysis dated 04-09-07)

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Related legal cases

Teague v. Quarterman

Teague v. Dretke