Ponte v. Real

LOCATION: Cleburne City Hall

DOCKET NO.: 83-1329
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

CITATION: 471 US 491 (1985)
ARGUED: Jan 09, 1985
DECIDED: May 20, 1985

Jonathan Shapiro - on behalf of the Respondent
Martin E. Levin - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Ponte v. Real

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 09, 1985 in Ponte v. Real

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Ponte against Real.

Mr. Levin, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Martin E. Levin:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court, this case presents a relatively narrow issue, and that is whether Chapter 103 of the Code of Massachsetts Regulations, Section 430.14 fails to satisfy the due process clause because it does not require a Prison Disciplinary Board to state its reasons in the record for denying an inmate's request for witnesses at his disciplinary hearing.

I will argue that the regulation wholly comports with due process, and that imposing the additional procedural requirement of a statement of reasons imposes unjustified burdens on the prison administration.

I will also address the issue of mootness that has been raised by the Respondent.

William H. Rehnquist:

Counsel, when you say requirement of a statement of reason, you're talking about a requirement that the administrative record before the Prison Disciplinary Board contain a statement of reasons as to why the Superintendent refused to allow a witness requested by the prisoner to be called?

Martin E. Levin:

As to why the Disciplinary Board refused to allow that request.

Yes, Your Honor.

William H. Rehnquist:

That would be as opposed to what might later be offered in a 1983 suit where the prisoner challenges his disciplinary hearing, reasons advanced at that time by the State.

Martin E. Levin:

Correct, Your Honor.

The Massachusetts Department of Correction has adopted regulations governing the procedures used at prison disciplinary hearings which track, virtually word for word, this Court's holding in Wolff v. McDonnell.

The particular regulation at issue here, Section 430.14, provides that an inmate does have a right to call witnesses at his disciplinary hearing except where that right conflicts with the prison official's interest in seeing that the hearing does not create undue hazards within the institution or otherwise undermine correctional goals.

The regulation further provides that in determining whether or not to allow an inmate's request for witnesses, the board is to consider such factors as relevance, necessity, the cumulative nature of the testimony to be given, and the hazards present in a particular case.

The regulation does not require the board to state its reasons or provide support in the record for its decision to deny an inmate's request for witnesses.

Of course, in Wolff v. McDonnell and again in Baxter v. Palmigiano, this Court rejected the notion that due process requires such a statement of reasons.

In this case, John real who was a prisoner at the maximum security institution in Massachusetts, was charged with three violations of the Massachusetts Code of Disciplinary Offenses.

Those charges stem from an incident in which Mr. Real, contrary to an order of a correctional officer named John Baleyko, entered an office within the prison in which Mr. Baleyko was attempting to stop another inmate's attack on another officer.

At his disciplinary hearing, Mr. Real requested that John Balayko, the reporting officer, the officer who authored the disciplinary report, be called as a witness.

Mr. Baleyko was called and he testified t the particulars of the offenses charged.

John Real also requested that two inmates be called as witnesses.

That request was denied and no reason for the denial appears in the administrative record.

The Disciplinary Board found that John--

Byron R. White:

What was the theory of... his theory of the incident?

Why did he want the witnesses?

Martin E. Levin:

--Well, Your Honor, that' not clear from the record as to why... why those witnesses were requested.

In the record it reflects that, although Mr. Real did not contest that he entered the office contrary so the order of the correctional officer, that on subsequent orders he was trying to leave, and that incoming officers stopped him from leaving to shake him down, as he--

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, that's a pretty good defense.

Martin E. Levin:

--Well, Your Honor, that may be a good statement in mitigation, but in fact what occurred here was the officer did issue an order which was not obeyed under circumstances in which immediate obedience was necessary.

Harry A. Blackmun:

But if he couldn't obey, in other words, hasn't he asserted the defense that sounds rather reasonable and he ought to have a chance to prove it?

Martin E. Levin:

Well, he... I don't want to get into the particulars of the record, but our position basically is that under the circumstances, in fact, when the officer had indeed ordered him not to come in in the first place, and he did not comply with that order, although a number of other inmates whom he was with did, was sufficient disobedience of an order, especially under circumstances such as these in which an assault was taking place, to constitute the offenses charged.