California Prisoners' Right to Impartial Disciplinary Tribunals

In People v. Superior Court (Hamilton) (1991) 230 Cal. App. 3d 1592, the court set forth the authorities which protect an inmate's right to impartial disciplinary tribunals. "Penal Code section 2932, subdivision (c)(1)(A) requires that a prison disciplinary hearing 'be conducted by an individual who shall be independent of the case . . . .' The Department of Corrections has promulgated California Code of Regulations, title 15, section 3320, subdivision (g) to promote this requirement. That regulation provides: 'Employees who reported the rule violation, or who supplied supplemental reports to the rule violation report, or who observed the alleged violation, or investigated the alleged misbehavior or assisted the inmate in preparing for the hearing, or for any other reason have a predetermined belief that the inmate is guilty or innocent will not sit as a fact finder in a disciplinary hearing nor be present while the fact finders are conducting deliberations to decide guilt or innocence and the appropriate disposition if the inmate is found guilty.' " (Hamilton, supra, 230 Cal. App. 3d at p. 1595.) In addition to these statutory and regulatory requirements, due process prevents prison staff who have " ' "participated or will participate in the case as an investigating or reviewing officer, or either is a witness or has personal knowledge of material facts related to the involvement of the accused inmate in the specific alleged infraction (or is otherwise personally interested in the outcome of the disciplinary proceeding)" ' " from acting as disciplinary hearing officers. (Id. at p. 1596.) In Hamilton the prisoner was initially charged by a correctional officer with battery on the officer. A correctional lieutenant then reviewed the charge as required by applicable regulations and changed the charge to "physical assault on staff" and classified the charge as a "Serious -- Division 'B' " rule violation. The same lieutenant then presided over the prisoner's disciplinary hearing and found the prisoner guilty of the assault charge. The court found that the lieutenant's role in reviewing the charge prevented her from participating as a hearing officer. "This review put the lieutenant in a prosecutorial role, i.e., a decisionmaking role in connection with the charging. Also, by making corrections to the rules violation report, the lieutenant became involved in reporting the rule violation. Such an active role in preparing the rules violation report must be characterized as a substantial involvement in the circumstances underlying the charge." (Hamilton, supra, 230 Cal.App.3d at p. 1597.)