California prisoners filed a civil rights suit on November 20, 1970 under 42 USC Sec. 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief (and in the case of one inmate, for damages as well) challenging the sufficiency of disciplinary procedures at San Quentin Correctional Facility. Among other things, inmates charged with offenses that could be referred to the District Attorney for prosecution as a felony, were informed that their request for counsel would be granted only when the inmate was questioned by the District Attorney. They also alleged infirmities in notice of the charges, counsel, opportunity to call witnesses, and notice of appeal. A few weeks after filling, the complaint was amended to be a class action on behalf of all other inmates at San Quentin who were affected by the disciplinary procedures there.
The U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, granted relief to the prisoners, 328 F.Supp. 767 (N.D. Cal. 1971) (Judge Alfonso J. Zirpoli), finding that the procedures violated their rights to due process and equal protection by failing to provide adequate notice of the charges, the ability to call and cross-examine witnesses, counsel, a decision by an uninvolved fact-finder, a written finding of facts, or uniform notice of a right to appeal when the discipline could result in a loss of liberty to the prisoner.
Judge Zirpoli also ruled that a three-judge panel need not be impaneled when the practice challenged is not of state-wide application.
Prison officials appealed. The Court of Appeals (Judge Shirley Hufstedler) affirmed, 497 F.2d 809 (9th Cir. 1974). The court found that a three-judge panel was not required, that prisoners were entitled to bring the action as a civil rights claim, not as a habeas corpus action, and (in an exhaustive review of specific types of due process procedures required) that prisoners are entitled to due process guarantees with respect to disciplinary proceedings that could result in an increase in the amount of time spent in prison or the deprivation of other liberties enjoyed by inmates. On rehearing, the Court of Appeals, 510 F. 2d 613 (9th Cir. 1974) (Judge Hufstedler), modified, holding that a prisoner subject to removal of one or more privileges must be given notice of intent to remove those privileges, statement of grounds, opportunity to challenge, and opportunity for a counsel-substitute whenever a prisoner subjected to disciplinary proceedings is unable to handle his case without help.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari consolidating the case with Palmigiano v. Baxter (a case from the 1st Circuit challenging due process violations in prison disciplinary procedures). The Supreme Court's decision reversed the decisions of the 1st and 9th Circuits. Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308 (1976) Writing for the majority, Justice White held that inmates do not have the right to retained or appointed counsel in disciplinary hearings; that permitting adverse inference to be drawn from an inmate's silence during a disciplinary hearing, is not, of itself, an invalid practice; that mandating that inmates be able to confront or cross-examine witnesses unduly preempts prison officials' discretion; and that requiring that inmates have notice and an opportunity to respond is premature where there is no evidence that the prison inmates were subject to a lesser penalty of loss of privileges, but rather were charged with serious misconduct. Justice Brennan concurred in part and dissented in part, joined by Justice Marshall.
Several months later, on remand, the 9th Circuit vacated its two earlier opinions to the extent they were inconsistent with the Supreme Court's decision, and remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling. Clutchette v. Enomoto, 536 F.2d 305 (9th Cir.1976). Judge Zirpoli in the District Court undertook this review and found that some degree of assistance could still be required, specifically holding that: (1) prison inmates who are illiterate or facing complex disciplinary proceedings are entitled to adequate assistance in lieu of counsel, and that this person cannot be a prison staff person whose duties require him to report information to the inmate's adversary; (2) that the person provided to assist should be an advocate for the prisoner when the inmate is unable to advocate on his own behalf; (3) that the prison must provide notice to inmates charged with disciplinary violations that they have a right to such assistance if the inmate believed he was or was found to be incompetent to proceed on his own; and (4) that the prison was not required to provide people other than prison staff to serve as counsel-substitutes. Clutchette v. Ennomoto, 471 F.Supp. 1113 (1979).
Because we don't have the docket in this case, our information ends with the 1979 District Court opinion.Denise Lieberman - 10/09/2005