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Judge: DOC must reinstate credit time for violating inmate’s due process

May 24, 2018

The Indiana Department of Correction must restore 90 days of credit time revoked from an inmate who was found guilty of being under the influence of intoxicants after a district court judge determined the prison violated the inmate’s due process rights in reaching that finding.   

The DOC convicted Putnamville Correctional Facility inmate Joshua Butler of being under the influence of intoxicants during a June 2017 disciplinary proceeding after a prison sergeant found him lying in his bunk, where he spoke with slurred speech, had trouble sitting upright and eventually threw up. Butler was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with food poisoning. He was then returned to custody and passed both a breathalyzer test and a urine screen.

When the disciplinary process subsequently began, Butler requested the results of his drug screen and urine test and his hospital paperwork as evidence. He also asked to see the video that prison staff had taken of the events surrounding his medical crisis, but all of his requests were denied. The DOC justified its decision to withhold the video by claiming that allowing Butler to view the footage would jeopardize prison safety and security.

But the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana disagreed on Wednesday when it granted habeas relief in Joshua Butler v. Brian Smith, 2:17-cv-00427. Specifically, Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson disagreed with the DOC’s assertion that giving Butler access to the video could create safety issues by allowing him to see how and who transports prisoners to and from the hospital.

“Mr. Butler was a first-hand witness to how he was transported and he (and the other inmates) saw the faces of the emergency services workers who responded to the incident,” Magnus-Stinson wrote. “It is puzzling how it would later be a security risk to show Mr. Butler something he already witnessed.”

The chief judge likewise found the DOC violated Butler’s due process rights when it denied him access to the results of his drug tests and his hospital paperwork. Though the DOC argued it withheld them because it did not dispute the results, Magnus-Stinson said there was no evidence to support that assertion.

“While Mr. Butler provided testimony that he passed these tests, the review and submission of paper copies of his breathalyzer and urine screen reports was not merely cumulative and was relevant and necessary because these screens were a verifiable, independent, unbiased source of evidence that Mr. Butler did not test positive for intoxicants on his return from the hospital,” she wrote. “Moreover, the paper copies of his screen reports were exculpatory and material because they undermined the finding that he was under the influence of intoxicants and created a reasonable probability of a different result.”

Finally, Magnus-Stinson rejected the argument that the requested hospital paperwork was “not clear” about Butler’s diagnosis, pointing to a line on Butler’s discharge instructions that listed his diagnosis as “Gastroenteritis vs. Food Poisoning.”

Thus, the district judge vacated the guilty finding against Butler and rescinded his sanction, allowing Butler to retain the 90 days of credit time that were revoked.  

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