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New York: Prison Disciplinary Witness Request Improperly Denied

The New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division has held that a prison disciplinary hearing officer improperly denied a prisoner’s request to call witnesses. As such, the court remanded the case for a new disciplinary hearing.

Based upon confidential information, New York state prisoner Christopher Ellison was issued a misconduct report charging him with assaulting a fellow prisoner and possessing a weapon. He was found guilty of both charges following a tier III disciplinary hearing, but the decision was reversed on administrative appeal and a rehearing ordered. Ellison was again found guilty after the rehearing and his administrative appeal was denied.

Ellison filed a CPLR article 78 judicial review proceeding and a declaratory judgment action in state court. He sought to vacate the disciplinary conviction.

The Appellate Division held that the misconduct report, hearing testimony and confidential evidence constituted substantial evidence of guilt. The Court also rejected Ellison’s argument that the hearing officer’s “interview with the author of the misbehavior report and review of the information from the confidential source” was insufficient “to allow the Hearing Officer to independently assess the credibility and reliability of the confidential information.”

Prison officials conceded, however, that the hearing officer had improperly denied Ellison’s request to call “relevant witnesses,” including guards who were present at the time of the alleged incident. The court wrote that “this amounts to a regulatory violation such that the proper remedy is to remit the matter for a new hearing.” See: Matter of Ellison v. Annucci, 142 A.D.3d 1233, 38 N.Y.S.3d 631 (NY App. Div. 2016). 

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Related legal case

Matter of Ellison v. Annucci