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8th Circuit Court of Appeals Examines Possession in Prison Searches

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Missouri federal district court’s dismissal of a petition for writ of habeas corpus that alleged denial of due process.

Petitioners Carroll James Flowers and Christopher Michael Danner instituted separate actions against the warden of the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, Marty C. Anderson, which arose from the same incident—the institution’s imposing of disciplinary sanctions for possession of a weapon. The court of appeals consolidated the causes.

Petitioners were housed together in July 2009, the only two residents in an eight-man room, when a staff member searched the room and discovered two knives above the door, between the wall and some electrical conduit. Since facility rules state that all prisoners are responsible for contraband found in their living area, and the area where the knives were found was equally accessible to both Flowers and Danner, they were charged with possession of the weapons. Petitioners exhausted administrative remedy and filed for writ of habeas corpus alleging that imposed sanctions deprived them of liberty without due process of law, because there was no evidence they committed the charged offense.

Petitioners stated that the knives were found above the ceiling in an area that was not their responsibility and was in fact unauthorized to them. The incident report stated the knives were against the wall, just below the ceiling. No evidence or witness statements were presented to corroborate either assertion. The cause then passed to the standard test of such instances—the ‘some evidence’ standard, which states that if there is any evidence in record that could support the finding, then the sanctions comport with due process.

The warden argued that the very presence of weapons in a room assigned to the petitioners constituted ‘some evidence,’ and the district court concurred. The court of appeals affirmed. See: Flowers v. Anderson, 661 F.3d 977 (8th Cir., 2011).

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Related legal case

Flowers v. Anderson