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Wolff v. McDonnell

Supreme Court of the United States

April 22, 1974, Argued ; June 26, 1974, Decided

No. 73-679

Case Summary

Procedural Posture

Respondent inmate, on behalf of himself and other inmates, challenged the constitutionality of several of the prison's policies under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that the policy of inspecting attorney mail was unconstitutional, but reversed and remanded its finding that the disciplinary procedures did not violate due process. The inmate was granted certiorari.

Overview

The inmate alleged that the prison's policies as to the taking of good time, the inmate legal assistance program, and the inspection of attorney mail were unconstitutional. The Court held that the inmates' interest in disciplinary procedures was protected by the Fourteenth Amendment because the right to good time and its deprivation as a sanction was provided by state statute. Due process required provision of advance written notice of the claimed violation, a written statement of the evidence relied upon, and the reasons for the disciplinary action. The inmate had to be allowed to call witnesses and present evidence when to do so would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or goals. Cross-examination and counsel were not constitutionally required. The prison's acceptance of a rule whereby the inmate was present when mail from attorneys was inspected was all that the constitution required. Finally, the Court agreed with the appellate court that the capacity of the inmate legal adviser had to be assessed in light of the demand for assistance in civil rights actions as well as in habeas corpus proceedings because both actions served to protect basic constitutional rights.

Outcome

The appellate court's finding that the disciplinary procedures violated due process was affirmed, but its retroactive application of such procedures and its holding that the prison's policy of inspecting attorney mail was unconstitutional were reversed. The case was remanded in accordance with the appellate court's directive that the capacity of the inmate legal adviser to assist with habeas petitions and civil rights actions be assessed.

LexisNexis® Headnotes

 

 

Criminal Law & Procedure > Postconviction Proceedings > Imprisonment

Governments > Legislation > Statutory Remedies & Rights

HN1  Postconviction Proceedings, Imprisonment

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 83-185 (***. Supp. 1972) of the Nebraska Treatment and Corrections Act provides that the chief executive officer of each penal facility is responsible for the discipline of inmates in a particular institution. The statute provides for a range of possible disciplinary action. Except in flagrant or serious cases, punishment for misconduct shall consist of deprivation of privileges. In cases of flagrant or serious misconduct, the chief executive officer may order that a person's reduction of term as provided in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 83-1,107 (good-time credit) be forfeited or withheld and also that the person be confined in a disciplinary cell. Each breach of discipline is to be entered in the person's file together with the disposition or punishment therefor.

 

Criminal Law & Procedure > Postconviction Proceedings > Imprisonment

Governments > Legislation > Statutory Remedies & Rights

HN2  Postconviction Proceedings, Imprisonment

See Neb. Rev. Stat. § 83-185 (***. Supp. 1972).

 

Criminal Law & Procedure > Postconviction Proceedings > Imprisonment

Governments > Legislation > Statutory Remedies & Rights

HN3  Postconviction Proceedings, Imprisonment

See Neb. Rev. Stat. § 83-1,107 (***. Supp. 1972).

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418 U.S. 539 ; 94 S. Ct. 2963 ; 41 L. Ed. 2d 935 ; 1974 U.S. LEXIS 91 ; 71 Ohio Op. 2d 336

WOLFF, WARDEN, ET AL. v. McDONNELL

Prior History:  [1]  CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

Disposition:  483 F.2d 1059, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.