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Kentucky Prisoner’s Due Process Rights Violated in Disciplinary Hearing

Kentucky Prisoner’s Due Process Rights Violated in Disciplinary Hearing

by Robert Warlick

On August 29, 2013, the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed an appellate decision that found an Adjustment Committee (AC) in a prison disciplinary proceeding had violated a prisoner’s due process rights by not meeting the “some evidence” standard as applied to confidential informants (CIs).

Ontario Thomas, imprisoned at the Northpoint Training Center in Kentucky, was found guilty by the AC in June 2009 of assaulting another prisoner, based solely on statements from at least two CIs.

On December 16, 2009, Thomas filed a petition in the Lyon Circuit Court alleging that the AC’s reliance on the CI information violated his due process rights. However, before the court ruled on his petition, two AC reviews were conducted which determined that the CI statements were reliable, reaffirming the guilty finding. The AC stated it had “review[ed] the confidential information and believe it to be true and reliable according to policy.” The Circuit Court subsequently dismissed Thomas’ petition, finding that his rights had not been violated.

The Court of Appeals reversed due to the AC’s failure to meet the “some evidence” standard during Thomas’ disciplinary hearing. The appellate court relied primarily on Hesley v. Wilson, 850 F.2d 269 (6th Cir. 1988), which requires a court to assess the reliability of a CI and the CI’s information to determine whether it qualifies as “some evidence.” The record on appeal provided no details as to the credibility of the CIs; consequently, the Court of Appeals held that Thomas’ due process rights were violated and remanded the case for a new AC hearing.

The state appealed and the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed. Citing supporting federal cases from the Third, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Circuits, the Court noted that the record “simply begs for some corroborating factors” of the CIs’ reliability, which could be done by stating for the record, “without divulging identities, why witnesses are reliable.”

The state Supreme Court concluded that “there is plainly no evidence to support the Adjustment Committee’s determination that the informants’ information was reliable. We know nothing of these informants and their information – whether they were eyewitnesses or whether there was any corroborating evidence. It would be helpful if the investigating officer, after being duly sworn, gave written details of what was related. This would not only bolster the observation of the witnesses, but would also provide the inmate charged with a better opportunity to rebut the evidence against him.” See: Haney v. Thomas, 406 S.W.3d 823 (Ky. 2013).


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Related legal case

Haney v. Thomas