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Illegal Inmate Disciplinary Hearing Not Moot by Time

Brief Synopsis: Never give up!  In this summary, a prisoner serving a life sentence, but with the possibility of parole, was found in violation of prison rules regarding having excess property.  The trial court ruled the administrative appeal was moot, but the prisoner appealed it to the Third Circuit, who agreed the ruling was not moot.
On January 14, 2019, Mule prison inmate Alex Marti was found in possession of excess property (an electric grill, extra tennis shoes, Tupperware and extra sheets and pillows), in violation of prison rules.  

The excess property was discovered by Officer Brown, who prepared the notices of rules violations that led to prison disciplinary proceedings.  Sergeant Rhode, Brown’s reviewing supervisor, signed the rules violation report prepared by Brown.  

The matter proceeded to a disciplinary hearing solely on the issue of the electric grill, however, and Mr. Marti was found guilty of the rules violation.  For reasons not relevant to this article, that decision was subsequently vacated and a rules violation report was reissued.

Although Rhode did not sign the reissued report, it specifically referenced and incorporated the original report that Rhode had signed earlier.  The matter then proceeded to a second disciplinary hearing, in which Mr. Marti was again found guilty of the violation.  In adjudicating the matter, the hearing officer referred to the original report as supporting the disciplinary finding.

On May 5, 2019, Officer Brown (who conducted the January 14 search) conducted another search of Mr. Marti’s cell and prepared a report indicating Mr. Marti was again in possession of excess property.  Sergeant Rhode did not participate in signing the rules violation.

Brown’s report mentioned the January 14, 2019, search, wherein Mr. Marti had also been found in possession of excess property.  

Before the matter proceeded to the disciplinary hearing, Mr. Marti filed a CDCR Form 22 inmate request for interview regarding the property seized on May 5, 2019.  The request was denied, so Mr. Marti requested supervisor review and the matter was forwarded to Sergeant Rhode.

Mr. Marti then met with Sergeant Rhode in person on May 30, 2019.  According to Mr. Marti, the discussion resulted in Sergeant Rhode returning Mr. Marti’s glasses.

On June 8, 2019, the matter proceeded to a disciplinary hearing with Sergeant Rhode serving as the hearing officer.  Sergeant Rhode found Mr. Marti guilty and imposed a 30-day revocation of yard recreation privileges as a penalty.

Mr. Marti then filed an administrative appeal of the June 8, 2019, disciplinary finding and that was denied.  He then (having exhausted his administrative remedies) filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the superior court, which was denied.

He then appealed the superior court ruling to the Third Appellate District Court and the Third District issued an order to show cause why the matter should not be returned to the superior court.

The superior court then denied relief, finding that the matter was moot and that the issues presented did not implicate Mr. Marti’s due process rights.  The mootness argument was that the sentence did not affect Mr. Marti’s release date from prison, as he was serving a life sentence, but with the possibility of parole.

Mr. Marti then appealed to the Third Appellate District court, which ruled the matter was not moot and that Mr. Marti was entitled to relief because, as Mr. Marti argued, Sergeant Rhode should not have served as the hearing officer based on his involvement in the first search.

The Third District explained that the mootness argument was incorrect because the adjudication remains in Mr. Marti’s file and may be considered in the future, for example, for purposes of classifying another violation as serious or administrative (Title 15, §§ 3315(a)(2)(M), 3326).  Under the circumstances presented, imposition of formal discipline will inform future decisions relating to whether and to what extent to impose discipline on Mr. Marti.  Moreover, parole consideration would be an obvious decision that might be impacted, as well as work and programming decisions.

Moreover, the Third Circuit pointed out that, ironically, to agree that the matter is moot would allow the prison to ignore its own regulations with respect to inmates such as Mr. Marti because court review would rarely occur before the immediate consequences of the decision have ended.  This is inconsistent with the broad remedial powers afforded a court in habeas corpus.

We especially like this ruling (In re Alex Marti, on Habeas Corpus) because it vindicates never giving up and exposes the prison administrative hearing process as the kangaroo court it so often really is.

The citation for the Third Appellate District Court ruling discussed above is In re Alex Marti (3d App. Dist., 2021)  Cal. App. 5th , Cal. Rptr. 3d.

For more information about inmate disciplinary proceedings, please click on the following articles:
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