On March 21, 2007, the United States Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in Teague v. Quarterman. Teague is a very important case that directly affects prisoners who are eligible for mandatory supervision release.
I suspect that the TDCJ will ask for rehearing and try to persuade the full Court to reverse the Teague decision. However, unless and until the Court reverses itself, Teague is good law.
1. Disciplinary Case and Hearing
In December 2001, TDCJ prisoner Teague received a disciplinary case for "trafficking and trading" (Offense Code 15.0) because another prisoner (Jordan) "caused $225.00 to be deposited into Teague’s" Inmate Trust Fund Account. The TDCJ alleged that Teague had Jordan place the money into his ITF account in exchange for Teague providing Jordan legal assistance. Teague denied the allegation. The TDCJ produced no evidence to show that Teague knew that Jordan had asked someone to deposit money into Teague’s ITF account. Nevertheless, at the disciplinary hearing, Teague was found guilty and part of his sanction was the loss of 30 days of good time. After his Step 1 and Step 2 were denied, he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus (28 U.S.C. §2254) in federal court.
2. 28 U.S.C. §2254
Teague alleged that he was deprived of procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and raised the following claims:
--Insufficient evidence to support the finding of guilt
--Prison officials failed to serve him timely with notice of the alleged violation
--Disciplinary hearing officer was not impartial
--Disciplinary hearing officer improperly denied his request to call witnesses
--Disciplinary hearing officer improperly denied his request to have the charging officer present at the hearing
--Disciplinary hearing officer stopped recoding the hearing during Teague’s presentation of evidence
--TDCJ improperly removed $225.00 from his inmate trust account
The District Court granted relief on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support the disciplinary hearing officer’s guilty finding and denied the rest of the claims.
The TDCJ filed a Rule 59e "Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment" on the grounds that the loss of 30 days of good time is "de minimis" and insufficient to warrant due process protection.
The District Court agreed that the loss of 30 days of good-time credits, which represented approximately .18% of Teague’s prison sentence, was de minimis. The Court granted the TDCJ’s Motion and held that the loss of 30 days of good-time credits was insufficient to entitle Teague to due process.
Teague then filed a Motion for Certificate of Appealability, which the District Court granted.
3. United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
On March 21, 2007, almost six years after the disciplinary hearing on the trafficking and trading case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in Teague.In its opinion, the Court affirmed:
When a state prisoner has a constitutional expectancy to an early release from prison based on the accumulation of good-time credits, he has a protected liberty interest in the good-time credits and is entitled to due process before he can be deprived of the good time credits; and
There is no right or constitutional expectancy to early release on parole in Texas because parole is within the total and unfettered discretion of the State; and
Texas’ pre-September 1, 1996 mandatory supervision statutes creates a protected liberty interest in good-time credits. Therefore, prisoners eligible for mandatory supervision release under the pre-September 1, 1996 statute are entitled to due process before the TDCJ can take away any of their good-time credits.
The Court also held, for the first time:
(1) Texas’ post-September 1, 1996 mandatory supervision statute does not deprive prisoners of their constitutional expectancy of release; and
(2) Texas’ post-September 1, 1996 mandatory supervision statute creates a constitutional expectancy of early release and a protected liberty interest in previously earned good-time credits. Therefore, prisoners eligible for mandatory supervision release under the post-September 1, 1996 statute are entitled to due process before the TDCJ can take away any of their good-time credits; and
(3) Good time may not be taken away from a state prisoner by a TDCJ administrative tribunal without affording the prisoner due process, regardless of the absolute number of days forfeited of the percentage of the sentence (or the remaining balance thereof) represented by the number of days lost; and
(4) TDCJ cannot discipline a prisoner for a Code 15.0 Offense (trafficking and trading) when there is no evidence that the prisoner had any knowledge of or participated in an unauthorized deposit into his Inmate Trust Fund Account.
WHY THIS CASE IS IMPORTANT
All prisoners with mandatory supervision dates have a protected interest in their good-time. Prior to Teague, only prisoners who were under the pre-September 1, 1996 mandatory supervision statute had a protected interest in their good-time credits.
The TDCJ must give this class of prisoners (prisoners with mandatory supervision dates) due process before depriving them of any previously earned good-time credits, regardless of the amount of the good time and there is no exception for an amount that might otherwise be considered "de minimis."
If a prisoner with a mandatory supervision date loses good time in a disciplinary hearing, he can challenge the disciplinary hearing via a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus.
The TDCJ cannot use Offense Code 15.0 (trafficking & trading offense) to punish a prisoner who has no knowledge of or participation in an unauthorized deposit into his trust account.
WHAT TO REMEMBER
This case has no affect on prisoners who are not eligible for mandatory supervision release. The holdings in this case have no application to parole because there is no right or constitutional expectancy to early release on parole in Texas. Parole is within the total and unfettered discretion of the State.
This case took almost six years to work its way through the courts.
Teague was represented by court appointed attorney Jason Douglas Hawkins of the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.
TDCJ was represented by Steven Michael Bozarth of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Steven Bozarth is the husband of Melinda Bozarth who is the General Counsel for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The Fifth Circuit heard oral argument on November 9, 2006.
WHAT PRISONERS SHOULD DO IF THIS CASE APPLIES TO THEM
Any prisoner who was disciplined and punished for a Code 15.0 offense, and who the TDCJ did not/cannot prove had knowledge of or participated in the unauthorized deposit into his ITF account, should file a grievance about the disciplinary case and ask that the case be reversed regardless of how long ago the disciplinary case was written. He should cite Teague as support for his grievance.
If the prisoner had money confiscated from his ITF account because of a Code 15.0 Offense (trafficking and trading), he should file grievance and request that the TDCJ refund the money. He should file both a Step 1 and Step 2 and cite the Teague case for support.
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