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Espinoza v. Fox

United States District Court, C.D. California

August 2, 2016

ALEJANDRO ESPINOZA, Petitioner,
v.
JACK FOX, Warden, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          JEAN ROSENBLUTH U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         PROCEEDINGS

         On December 21, 2015, Petitioner filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in Federal Custody. He also consented to having a U.S. Magistrate Judge conduct all further proceedings in his case, including entering final judgment. On February 12, 2016, Respondent filed an Answer and a memorandum of points and authorities and consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge. Petitioner did not file a reply.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies the Petition and dismisses this action with prejudice.

         PETITIONER’S CLAIMS

         I. Insufficient evidence supported the disciplinary-hearing officer’s finding that Petitioner possessed a hazardous tool under Prohibited Act Code 108. (Pet. at 3.)

         II. Code 108 is unconstitutionally vague on its face and as applied to Petitioner. (Id.)

         III. Petitioner was denied equal protection because he was disciplined under Code 108 while other inmates possessing the same device have been disciplined under Code 305, a lesser violation. (Id. at 4.)

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner is a federal prisoner housed at the Federal Correctional Institution in Lompoc. (Pet. at 2.) He is serving a 240-month sentence imposed in the District of New Mexico for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine. (Answer, Cruz Decl. ¶ 3, Attach. 1 at 13.) Assuming Petitioner earns all available good-conduct credit, his current projected release date is August 11, 2021. (Answer, Cruz Decl. ¶ 3, Attach. 2 at 19.)

         On April 10, 2014, a prison staff member searched a locker assigned to Petitioner and found an improvised heating device (colloquially known as a “stinger”) hidden inside a sock behind some folded clothes. (Answer, Cruz Decl. ¶ 4, Attach. 3 at 21-22; see Pet. at 3.) That day, the staff member prepared an incident report, charging Petitioner with violating Prohibited Act Code 108, possession of a hazardous tool. (Answer, Cruz Decl. ¶ 4, Attach. 3 at 21); see 28 C.F.R. § 541.3, Table 1. Petitioner received the incident report and was advised of his rights the same day. (Answer, Cruz Decl., Attach. 3 at 21, 23.)

         On April 15, 2014, Petitioner appeared before the Unit Discipline Committee, which referred the charge to the Discipline Hearing Officer for further hearing. (Id. at 21.)

         On April 16, 2014, DHO J.L. Spaulding conducted Petitioner’s disciplinary hearing. (Answer, Cruz Decl., Attach. 4 at 24, 27.) Petitioner waived his right to a staff representative, denied the charge, and did not call any witnesses. (Id. at 24.) At the hearing, Petitioner stated that he was “in Education when [the incident] took place” and someone else “threw [the stinger] in [his] locker, ” which was “always open.” (Id.)

         After reviewing the evidence, the DHO found that Petitioner had violated Code 108. (Id. at 25.) The DHO based his decision on the staff member’s written report; Petitioner’s statements to the investigator, the discipline committee, and the DHO; and photographic evidence of the device found in his locker. (Id.) He found that whether Petitioner was in “Education” at the time had “no bearing on the incident as there [was] no requirement that [he] be present for a search.” (Id. at 26.) The DHO explained that Petitioner’s claim that his locker was not locked was “not a valid defense” because he could have bought a lock from the commissary; even if the locker was unsecured, that did not relieve him of his responsibility to keep his area free of contraband. (Id.) The DHO found not credible Petitioner’s claim that someone else must have put the device in his locker, noting that it was ...


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