Sandin v. Conner,
515 U.S. 472 (1995)

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No. 93-1911. Argued February 28, 1995-Decided June 19, 1995

In this suit, respondent Conner alleged that petitioner and other Hawaii prison officials deprived him of procedural due process when an adjustment committee refused to allow him to present witnesses during a disciplinary hearing and then sentenced him to segregation for misconduct. The District Court granted the officials summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Conner had a liberty interest in remaining free of disciplinary segregation and that there was a disputed question of fact whether he had received all of the process due under Wolffv. McDonnell, 418 U. S. 539. The court based its conclusion on a prison regulation instructing the committee to find guilt when a misconduct charge is supported by substantial evidence, reasoning that the committee's duty to find guilt was nondiscretionary. From that regulation, it drew a negative inference that the committee may not impose segregation if it does not find substantial evidence of misconduct, that this is a state-created liberty interest, and that therefore Wolff entitled Conner to call witnesses.

Held: Neither the Hawaii prison regulation nor the Due Process Clause itself affords Conner a protected liberty interest that would entitle him to the procedural protections set forth in Wolff Pp.477-488.

(a) Under Wolff, States may in certain circumstances create liberty interests that are protected by the Due Process Clause. But these interests will generally be limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. See also Meachum v. Fano, 427 U. S. 215. The methodology used in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U. S. 460, and later cases has impermissibly shifted the focus of the liberty interest inquiry from one based on the nature of the deprivation to one based on language of a particular regulation. Under Hewitt's methodology, prison regulations, such the one in this case, have been examined to see whether mandatory language and substantive predicates create an enforceable expectation that the State would produce a particular


outcome with respect to the prisoner's confinement conditions. This shift in focus has encouraged prisoners to comb regulations in search of mandatory language on which to base entitlements to various stateconferred privileges. Courts have, in response, drawn negative inferences from that language. Hewitt creates disincentives for States to codify prison management procedures in the interest of uniform treatment in order to avoid the creation of "liberty" interests, and it has led to the involvement of federal courts in the day-to-day management of prisons. The time has come to return to those due process principles that were correctly established and applied in Wolff and Meachum. pp.477-484.

(b) Conner asserts, incorrectly, that any state action taken for a punitive reason encroaches upon a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause even in the absence of any state regulation. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U. S. 520 (1979), and Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U. S. 651 (1977), distinguished. Pp. 484-485.

(c) Conner's discipline in segregated confinement did not present the type of atypical, significant deprivation in which a State might conceivably create a liberty interest. At the time of his punishment, disciplinary segregation mirrored those conditions imposed upon inmates in administrative segregation and protective custody. Moreover, the State later expunged his disciplinary record, with respect to the more serious of the charges against him. And, his confinement did not exceed similar, but totally discretionary confinement in either duration or degree of restriction. Conner's situation also does not present a case where the State's action will inevitably affect the duration of his sentence, since the chance that the misconduct finding will affect his parole status is simply too attenuated to invoke the Due Process Clause's procedural guarantees. Pp. 485-487.

15 F.3d 1463, reversed.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 488. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOUTER, J., joined, post, p. 491.

Steven S. Michaels, First Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Margery S. Bronster, Attorney General of Hawaii, Robert A. Marks, former Attorney General, and Kathleen M. Sato, Deputy Attorney General.

Full Text of Opinion

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