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Reason For Denying Witnesses Required in Kansas Prison Disciplinary Action

On February 23, 2007, a Kansas court of appeals held that a disciplinary hearing officer must state the reasons for denying the prisoner's witnesses.

Marcus B. Washington, a Kansas state prisoner, was infracted by a female guard after he allegedly asked if he could "scribe" her. The hearing officer refused Washington's requested witnesses. After he was convicted of undue familiarity, Washington filed an administrative appeal based upon the denial of the witnesses and several other errors. Washington lost the administrative appeal. He then filed a petition pursuant to K.S.A. 60-1501 in state court.

The trial court dismissed the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Washington appealed.

The court of appeals noted that, under K.A.R. 44-13-101(c)(5), a prisoner is entitled "to have witnesses called to testify on the inmate's behalf." K.A.R. 44-13-405a(a) states that the hearing officer "shall balance the inmate's interest in avoiding loss of good time against the needs of the prison." It also sets forth the needs of the prison in 13 paragraphs. K.A.R. 44-13-405a(e) requires the hearing officer to make a written explanation of the denial of a witnesses on the record unless making such would endanger any person.

Observing that the prisoner claiming a violation of constitutional rights in a habeas corpus proceeding bears the burden of proof, the court of appeals noted that prison officials bear the burden of persuasion in justifying a refusal to call a prisoner's requested witnesses in a prison disciplinary hearing. Because prison officials provided no rationale for the denial of the witnesses, Washington may be entitled to relief. Therefore, a writ should be issued under K.A.R. 60-1503, after which prison officials may file an answer stating the reasons for refusing to call Washington's witnesses.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of Washington's claims based upon the sufficiency of the evidence, the report of the hearing officer's decision, the failure to have the charging officer available in person and the partiality of the hearing officer. However, the court of appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to grant Washington's 60-1501 petition and conduct further proceedings on the claim that the hearing officer failed to state the rationale for denying Washington's witnesses.
See: Washington v. Roberts, 152 P.3d 660 (Kan.App. 2007).

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Related legal case

Washington v. Roberts