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Mentally Ill Federal Prisoner Denied Due Process in Disciplinary Hearing without Adequate Assistance

In 1974, a federal prisoner in Marion, Illinois named William Ross was found guilty of using narcotics and possessing a knife by a disciplinary committee. At the time, he was mentally unable to present a defense, and nobody made arguments on his behalf or appealed the committee’s decision. Ross’s attorney was not allowed to help him; no other person acted in any way to help him. He challenged the action in federal district court via Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.

In considering the petition, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois recognized that Wolff v. MCDonnell 418 U.S. 539, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974) held that the Due Process Clause in the U.S. Constitution requires that prisoners receive minimal due process in disciplinary hearings. It then found that since Ross’s conviction and the lack of any adequate assistance kept him from presenting any defense to the disciplinary allegations, he didn’t receive the due process required by Wolff. The disciplinary action was therefore nullified and vacated. See: U.S. ex rel. William Ross v. Warden, Marion Penititentiary, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Ill. 1977) 428 F. Supp. 443.

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Related legal case

U.S. ex rel. William Ross v. Warden, Marion Penititentiary