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Kentucky Prisoners Entitled to Review of Audio Recordings at Disciplinary Hearing

A Kentucky Court of Appeals held on February 26, 2016 that prisoners have a due process right to request the review of audio recordings at a prison disciplinary hearing.

Proceeding pro se, Kentucky state prisoner Sammy F. Mobley, Jr. argued he was denied due process by prison officials who convicted him of a disciplinary infraction “without sufficient evidence to support that conviction.” The trial court dismissed his petition for relief, finding he had been allowed to present a defense at his disciplinary hearing.

The controversy arose while Mobley was imprisoned at the Roederer Correctional Complex, which includes a farm. On December 25, 2013 and January 6, 2014, he placed six phone calls to his wife. Two guards wrote Mobley a disciplinary report on January 14, alleging that during those calls he used “coded language” in an attempt to have his wife deliver contraband to the prison farm.

At the disciplinary hearing, the evidence consisted of the guards’ written report containing Mobley’s alleged incriminatory statements and his prior record, which included a 2013 attempt to arrange a contraband delivery. Mobley presented a statement regarding the phone conversations and pictures of his own farm, in support of his argument that his remarks during the calls were related to his home farm and not the prison’s farm. He asked the hearing officer to review the audio recordings of the calls in their entirety for proper context.

His request was denied and Mobley was found guilty. He exhausted his administrative remedies before filing a petition for declaratory judgment.

In denying his petition, the trial court cited federal and state precedent which held a “very deferential standard of review” should apply. That standard allows reviewing courts to find that due process in prison disciplinary hearings is satisfied if the conviction is based on “some evidence from which the conclusion of the administrative tribunal could be deduced.” As Mobley had presented some evidence, though not the audio recordings he requested, the court found he had received all process due.

The Court of Appeals noted a due process violation does not exist in situations, as in this case, where an administrative regulation was violated but minimal due process requirements were met.

However, the appellate court pointed to Kentucky Supreme Court precedent, Ramirez v. Nietzel, 424 S.W.3d 911 (Ky. 2014), which held a prisoner has a right to have a disciplinary hearing officer view recorded video footage, noting, “The negligible difference between a video and an audio recording is insufficient for this Court to justify departure from the Supreme Court’s clear and unambiguous holding in Ramirez.”

Therefore, the hearing officer should have granted Mobley’s request to review the audio recordings, and the trial court’s order was reversed. See: Mobley v. Payne, 484 S.W.3d 746 (Ky. Ct. App. 2016). 

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Related legal cases

Mobley v. Payne

Ramirez v. Nietzel