By David Hanyok J.D. ’16
I took this case after doing intake on the client’s case. He was friendly and appreciative of every bit of help we could offer. The situation was hard to believe: after drugs were found in the client’s cell — which he shared with two other prisoners, and in which two more had recently been placed briefly — he was removed from a minimum security placement where he worked two jobs and was on the Boston University honor roll. He lost the two jobs, could no longer attend his classes, and his pending release on parole was suddenly put in jeopardy. All of this happened after he had taken a drug test that was negative for all substances.
The hearing itself was easy. The reporting officer was cooperative, and he didn’t dispute that the drugs were found in a common space. Further, the case was plagued with procedural problems — evidence that someone had thrown away, failures to follow procedures for drug cases, and more. In the end, the hearing officer recognized that he had no evidence suggesting that the drugs belonged to my client rather than any of the other four inmates with access to the cell.
Still, my client was found guilty on one extremely minor contraband charge. He admitted the contraband was his, though some of it was religious property and another piece was a lock he had received at another facility. With little to go on, legally speaking, we submitted an appeal stressing simply the unfairness of the situation. Our client, poised to get out of prison with two jobs and well on his way to earning a degree, had already lost that opportunity. Because of the guilty finding, he was at further risk of having his parole revoked because of property that many inmates have and that corrections officers almost always allow.
Incredibly, the appeal worked. The superintendent dismissed the final charge, and the feeling of helping a man with so much promise get out of prison and move on with his life was truly unforgettable. Also, having heard so many stories about the Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP) clients being found guilty despite blatantly inadequate evidence, it was heartening that a prison official would take seriously a claim based exclusively on fundamental fairness.