Wolff v. McDonnell

LOCATION: Nebraska Penal and Correctional Center (now known as Nebraska State Penitentiary)

DOCKET NO.: 73-679
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 418 US 539 (1974)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1974
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1974

Douglas F. Duchek - for respondent pro hac vice, by special leave of Court
Melvin Kent Kammerlohr - for the petitioner
Robert H. Bork -

Facts of the case

The detainee of a Nebraska state prison filed a lawsuit claiming that the conditions of their remaining, especially, disciplinary rules, contradicted with the due process and Fourteenth amendment principles. He brought the claim on behalf of other prisoners. The plaintiff was punished for such misbehavior as the loss of time that was defined by the opinions of the wardens. The other issue of the suit was that the correspondence of the inmates and their advocates was checked by the prison`s authority.

The district court declined the claim affirming that were not constitutional infringements but the internal problems regarding the prison rules. The judgment also considered that the control over the correspondence of the detainees contravened with the right to the access to the trial.

The Court of Appeals overturned the ruling in Wolff v McDonnell and established that the jail administration should adhere the minimal process standards that should be restricted only for the criminal offenders. The judges also confirmed the requirement to cease the correspondence inspection by the administration.

The case was handed out to the Supreme Court of the USA to resolve the issue whether the jail administration adhere all the constitutional requirement conducting its disciplinary policies regarding the detainees. The judges established that besides the prisoners did not possess the full capacity accordingly to the due process principle; however, the corrective procedures should consist of written notification regarding the accusation and opportunity to defend due to the participation of the witnesses and presentation of evidence. The decision in Wolff v. McDonnell authorized to deny the inmate`s right to the defense through evidence or participation of the witnesses. The court confirmed that the control over the inmates` correspondence by the jail officials was outlawed.

Notwithstanding, the case study Wolff vs. Mcdonnell notes that few judges wrote a dissent opinion affirming that the inmates possessed all the rights of the due process in the conditions of the deprivation of the freedom in jail.


Do the disciplinary proceedings at Nebraska Penal and Correctional Center violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Wolff v. McDonnell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1974 in Wolff v. McDonnell

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 26, 1974 in Wolff v. McDonnell

Byron R. White:

The third case I have is Wolff against McDonnell, which is here from the Eighth Circuit on writ of certiorari.

This case involves three questions, first is the constitutionality of procedures which are employed at disciplinary hearings in the Nebraska Prison System where the misconduct charge, it is serious and the sanction that maybe imposed involves the possible laws of so-called good-time credits.

Second question is the handling of mail addressed to inmates by their attorneys.

The third question relates to whether or not legal help of some kind should be made available to inmates for the preparation of civil rights complaints.

The Court of Appeals addressed itself to these questions and it would not pay I don't think to attempt to summarize these holdings in any detail.

I should simply say that we agree in part with the Court of Appeals, but disagree in other respects.

Principle difference being with the holding of the Court of Appeals that the principles and procedures of Morrissey against Brewer and Gagnon against Scarpelli, two recent decisions in this Court are to be generally applied to prison disciplinary procedures.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Mr. Justice Douglas has filed a dissenting opinion, Mr. Justice Marshall has also filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan has joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice White.