Skip navigation

Nebraska: Evidence and Due Process Sufficient to Find Prisoner Guilty of Prison Rule Infraction

Nebraska: Evidence and Due Process Sufficient to Find Prisoner Guilty of Prison Rule Infraction

The Nebraska Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s holding that prisoner James Saylor received due process and was found guilty of an infraction based on competent evidence in a disciplinary proceeding.

The Institutional Disciplinary Committee (IDC) of the Nebraska State Penitentiary (NSP) found Saylor guilty of self-mutilation. Saylor appealed the IDC’s findings to the Department of Correctional Services Appeals Board, alleging that the IDC found him guilty based on insufficient evidence and that he had been deprived of due process. The appeal board denied his appeal and this decision was affirmed by the Johnson County District Court. Saylor then appealed that decision and the court of appeals affirmed on August 21, 2012.

On the morning of September 14, 2010, Saylor was a prisoner at NSP. As he was waiting in a holding cell by himself to be transferred to another prison, he refused to go. A guard passing by Saylor’s cell soon afterwards observed Saylor sitting with one end of a belt around his neck and the other end around the cell bars above his head. Saylor was conscious and responsive as the belt was removed, and an hour later, the observing guard wrote a disciplinary misconduct report (DR) including the infractions of mutilation of self or others, use of abusive language or gestures, and violation of regulations.

At an investigative hearing on September 18, 2010, Saylor was apprised of the infractions he had been accused of on the DR. Saylor could not sign the DR at that time but a copy was filed away until later. At Saylor’s disciplinary hearing on September 29, 2010, he informed the IDC that he had not received a copy of the DR. He was furnished with a copy and his hearing was rescheduled for October 6, 2010.

The IDC held the disciplinary hearing on schedule, denying Saylor’s request for more time to prepare his defense. Saylor called no witnesses – waiving the presences of the observing guard and a Dr. Kamal, whom Saylor had previously requested “to describe [his] mental health condition.” The observing guard testified via telephone, and Saylor, verbally and through three pages of written testimony, demanded the dismissal of the DR because his due process rights had been violated. The IDC chairperson allegedly refused to relay questions to the observing guard posed by Saylor, such as whether the belt could have been placed around his neck by someone else.

Following the hearing, the IDC found Saylor guilty of self-mutilation by attempting to hang himself but dismissed the other two infractions. It was also determined that Saylor had sufficient time to prepare a defense and had access to pertinent rules. Saylor appealed the IDC’s finding to the appeals board, which found that Saylor had received due process and that substantial, competent evidence supported Saylor’s guilt. The district court subsequently affirmed.

Saylor next filed an appeal to the court of appeals, arguing that the district court had incorrectly determined that his due process rights had not been violated and that the evidence had been competent. In addressing due process, the court of appeals relied on U.S. Supreme Court precedent outlining a prisoner’s due process rights in a disciplinary proceeding, specifically that a prisoner “must receive (1) advance written notice of the disciplinary charges; (2) an opportunity…to call witnesses and present documentary evidence…; and (3) a written statement by the fact finders of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action.”

The court of appeals concluded that the record reflected that these requirements had been met. Saylor received advance verbal and written notice of the charges, he had time to prepare a defense, and he had an opportunity to call witnesses (which he had waived) and present documentary evidence (he had submitted a written statement) and the IDC entered written findings of the evidence relied on and reasons for the disciplinary action. Saylor’s inability to cross-examine the observing guard at his hearing was determined to be irrelevant.

On Saylor’s argument that the district court had unfairly held that the evidence was competent, the court of appeals applied a substantial evidence standard as defined by Nebraska law. Nebraska law also provides that a prisoner commits an offense by conduct that is “intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent.” Saylor alleged that the evidence did not support that he intentionally, recklessly or negligently caused the belt to be around his neck. The court of appeals disagreed. As no evidence had been presented as to how the belt came to be around Saylor’s neck other than his voluntary actions, substantial evidence existed in the record to fairly support his guilt in the disciplinary proceeding

The court of appeals, therefore, affirmed the district court’s findings. See: Saylor v. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Nebraska Court of Appeals, Case no. A-11-658; 2012 Neb. App. LEXIS 162 (Neb. Ct. App. Aug. 21, 2012).

Related legal case

Saylor v. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services