Anderson v. Dillman (P)

The circuit court properly dismissed a Virginia inmate’s due process suit asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that prison officials had violated his rights during a prison disciplinary proceeding that resulted in a $10 fine.

Contrary to the plaintiff’s contention, his due process rights were not violated when a hearing officer failed to produce the requested chain-of-custody report and list of medications prior to or during the disciplinary hearing. In a criminal trial in which the issue to be decided is a defendant’s guilt or innocence, the defendant has no general constitutional right to discovery. All the more this must be true in the lesser context of a prison disciplinary proceeding. Moreover, the erroneous exclusion of evidence during a criminal trial implicates due process principles only when the error is of such magnitude as to deny fundamental fairness. Any lesser standard would risk equating erroneous evidentiary rulings with constitutional violations and would turn every decision to deny a pretrial discovery request or to sustain an objection to evidence at trial — if later determined to be mistaken — into a due process violation. The same conclusion must be true where, as here, an inmate challenges a prison disciplinary sanction.

Here, at no point has the plaintiff proffered what the chain-of-custody report or list of medications would have proven. Even so, the hearing officer independently investigated to confirm with prison medical staff that the plaintiff’s prescribed medications, either alone or in combination, could not have created a false-positive drug test result. Even if the plaintiff had a due process right to receive the requested documents, he has offered no factual basis to believe that their nondisclosure rendered his disciplinary hearing fundamentally unfair or, for that matter, prejudiced him in any way.

Affirmed.

Anderson v. Dillman (P), No. 171562, Mar. 21, 2019. SCV (Kelsey) from Powhatan (Cella).



Categories: Opinions, Published, Supreme Court of Virginia

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