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Sandin v. Conner

Citation. 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995).

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff challenged refusal to present witnesses during hearing as a deprivation of due process rights.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A prisoner has a cause of action for deprivation of liberty interest under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment when it presents the type of atypical, significant deprivation in which a state might conceivably create a liberty interest.

Facts.

Plaintiff was serving 30 years to life in a Hawaii prison. He reacted angrily to a strip-search. A committee held a hearing during which Plaintiff was not allowed to present witnesses. He was found guilt and sentenced to 30 days in solitary confinement. On appeal, a prison administrator found the sentence unsupported and expunged the charge. In the meantime, Plaintiff filed suit, arguing his due process rights were violated because he was not allowed to present witnesses at the hearing.

Issue.

Whether solitary confinement triggers due process protection.

Held.

No. Solitary confinement does not trigger due process protection.

Dissent.

Justice Ginsburg

Plaintiff had a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. This was a severe alteration in the conditions of his incarceration. An incentive for rules prison management disserves the state’s penological goals and jeopardizes the welfare of prisoners.

Justice Breyer

The Court is trying to change the definition of liberty interest by imposing a minimum standard.  Expungement or not, Plaintiff suffered a deprivation that was significant.

Discussion.

Prisoners do not shed all constitutional rights at the prison gate, but lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights. Discipline is expected.

Moreover, the disciplinary segregation imposed here mirrored conditions seen in administration segregation and protective custody. It was not a major disruption to the Plaintiff’s environment. Plaintiff has not set forth a protected liberty interest entitling him to additional procedural protections. Judgement reversed.


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