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Nevada Court Rules Prison Officials Withheld Evidence from Prisoner

The order accepted the factual findings in a magistrate’s report and recommendation, but it rejected the conclusion that both parties’ motions for summary judgment should be denied. The facts showed that in November 2014, staff at the High Desert State Prison received an anonymous tip that Melnik was introducing methamphetamine into the prison. As a result, they began monitoring his mail. Letters were intercepted on December 10 and 12, and a small pouch of meth was found taped onto the letters in each envelope.

Melnik was issued two disciplinary charges for unauthorized use of mail and possession/sale of intoxicants. At a disciplinary hearing conducted February 10, 2015, Melnik testified the meth was not his and that he was set up by members of the Aryan Warriors prison gang because he refused to participate in illegal activity. He also requested, and was denied, copies of the envelopes and letters at issue.

The district court noted that under Wolff v. McDonnell, 94 S. Ct. 2963 (1974), Melnik had the right, under the Fourteenth Amendment, to present documentary evidence. Melnik argued that right was limited by the denial of the requested evidence. The court agreed, finding that this denied Melnik’s “due process right to marshal facts in his defense and to present the letter into evidence at the hearing.”

Additionally, the court noted that the denial of the documentary evidence was a violation of the Nevada Department of Corrections’ own rules, and that the rule’s confidentially exemption did not apply in this case. The defendants conceded this point. The court found there were no issues of fact in dispute, which opened the door for it to resolve the question as a matter of law.

Having found Melnik’s due process right was denied, the court found, qualified immunity did not apply because that right was clearly established at the time of the events at issue. It granted summary judgment to Melnik and ordered a trial to determine the amount of damages due for the violation of his rights. See: Melnik v. Dzurenda, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21998. 

Related legal case

Melnik v. Dzurenda