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Oklahoma Discipline Vacated Following Ruling in Gamble; No Evidence Violates Due Process

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that an Oklahoma prisoner was denied due process of law when he was punished in the absence of evidence to support the disciplinary violation.

Oklahoma prisoners "are required to keep a mandatory savings account, in which they must deposit twenty percent of the wages they earn from prison employment. They may only access the account to pay 'fees or costs in filing civil or criminal actions....'" This includes "any fee, fine, cost or assessment," including "'photocopy charges imposed by a court clerk for obtaining official records and transcripts.'" Gamble v. Calbone, 375 F3d 1021 (10th Cir. 2004).

Oklahoma prisoner Larry Wilson "attempted to use his mandatory savings account to pay ? costs associated with copying the court documents he needed to pursue a post-conviction proceeding." However, prison officials charged him with attempting to obtain money under false pretenses, a Class X misconduct, which was the most serious class of misconduct. The only evidence was the written form Wilson submitted, on which he "requested payment from his account 'to attain transcripts and court documents from Murray County Court Clerk.'"

Wilson was found guilty and subjected to mandatory reclassification from class-level-four to class-level-one, thereby losing 44 credits per month toward early release which he automatically accrued at level four.

Wilson filed a federal writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging the disciplinary conviction. The district court denied relief, concluding that reclassification did not implicate a liberty interest for due process purposes.

After an extensive analysis the Tenth Circuit expressly adopted "the conclusion that Gamble suggests and Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995) requires the misconduct conviction infringed a liberty interest because it reduced his credit earning class in a manner that 'inevitably affect[ed] the duration of his sentence.'"

The appellate court noted that in Gamble it concluded that a prisoner does not violate the rule of obtaining money by false pretenses unless there is evidence that the prisoner "attempted to obtain money by means of a trick, deception, or false representation. It is necessary that they knew it was a trick, deception, or false representation, and that they had the intent to cheat or defraud."

The State conceded that Gamble controlled and no evidence supported Wilson's conviction. See: Wilson v. Jones, 430 F.3d 1113 (10th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 127 S.Ct. 158 (2006).

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Related legal case

Wilson v. Jones