Baxter v. Palmigiano
Annotate this Case
425 U.S. 308 (1976)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308 (1976)
Baxter v. Palmigiano
Argued December 15, 1975
Decided April 20, 1976
425 U.S. 308
Respondent state prison inmates in No. 74-1194 filed an action for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging that procedures used in prison disciplinary proceedings violated their rights to due process and equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court granted relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that minimum notice and a right to respond are due an inmate faced even with a temporary suspension of privileges, that an inmate at a disciplinary hearing who is denied the privilege of confronting and cross-examining witnesses must receive written reasons or the denial will be deemed prima facie evidence of abuse of discretion, and that an inmate facing prison discipline for a violation that might also be punishable in state criminal proceedings has a right to counsel (not just counsel substitute) at the prison hearing. Respondent state prison inmate in No. 74-1187, upon being charged with inciting a prison disturbance, was summoned before prison authorities and informed that he might be prosecuted for a violation of state law, that he should consult an attorney (although the attorney would not be permitted to be present during the disciplinary hearing), and that he had a right to remain silent during the hearing, but that, if he did so, his silence would be held against him. On the basis of the hearing, at which respondent remained silent, he was placed in "punitive segregation" for 30 days. He then filed an action for damages and injunctive relief, claiming that the disciplinary hearing violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that an inmate at a prison disciplinary proceeding must be advised of his right to remain silent, that he must not be questioned further once he exercises that right, that such silence may not be used against him at that time or in future proceedings, and that, where criminal charges
are a realistic possibility, prison authorities should consider whether defense counsel, if requested, should be permitted at the proceeding.
Held: The procedures required by the respective Courts of Appeals are either inconsistent with the "reasonable accommodation" reached in Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U. S. 539, between institutional needs and objectives and the constitutional provisions of general application, or are premature on the basis of the case records. Pp. 425 U. S. 314-324.
(b) Permitting an adverse inference to be drawn from an inmate's silence at his disciplinary proceedings is not, on its face, an invalid practice, and there is no basis in the record for invalidating it as applied to respondent in No. 74-1187. Pp. 425 U. S. 316-320.
(c) Mandating that inmates should have the privilege of confrontation and cross-examination of witnesses at prison disciplinary proceedings, except where prison officials can justify their denial of such privilege on grounds that would satisfy a court of law, effectively preempts the area that Wolff, supra, left to the sound discretion of prison officials, and there is no evidence of abuse of such discretion by the prison officials in No. 74-1194. Pp. 425 U. S. 320-323.
(d) Where there was no evidence that any of the respondents in No. 74-1194 were subject to the "lesser penalty" of loss of privileges, but rather it appeared that all were charged with "serious misconduct," the Court of Appeals acted prematurely to the extent it required procedures such as notice and an opportunity to respond even when an inmate is faced with a temporary suspension of privileges. Pp. 425 U. S. 323-324.
No. 74-1187, 510 F.2d 534; No. 74-1194, 510 F.2d 613, reversed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, and in Part V of which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 425 U. S. 324. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.