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Seventh Circuit: Habitual Disciplinary Offender Finding Does Not Open Door to Attacking Prior Disciplinary Convictions

On September 12, 2008, the Seventh Circuit court of appeals held that a prison's finding that a prisoner was a habitual disciplinary offender and punishing him therefore does not open the door for a collateral attack on the underlying disciplinary convictions.

Savaughn Wilson-El, an Indiana state prisoner, was convicted of insolence. It was his eighth disciplinary conviction in a two-month period. A few days later, he was convicted of being a habitual disciplinary rule violator and lost 180-days of good conduct time for that reason. Wilson-El filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in federal district court challenging the disciplinary actions. The district court dismissed the petition on the basis of the punishment for the insolence conviction, a written reprimand and one month without commissary privileges, being insufficient to implicate a federal liberty interest. Wilson-El appealed.

The Seventh Circuit held that Wilson-El did not say anything about his habitual offender conviction in his brief, so he could not be challenging it by itself. He also could not successfully challenge his insolence conviction by itself because his punishment did not implicate a liberty interest. Therefore, Wilson-El must be challenging the insolence conviction in that, without it there would have been no habitual conviction. This fails on two points: first, seven disciplinary convictions in two months would have been sufficient to uphold the habitual conviction. Second, the Supreme Court does not allow new collateral consequences of a prior conviction, such as sentencing enhancements, to reopen the underlying conviction to collateral attack. Therefore, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the petition.

See: Wilson-El v. Finnan, 544 F.3d 762 (7th Cir. 2008)

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Related legal case

Wilson-El v. Finnan