LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 31, 2014) — Melissa N. Henke, director of the Legal Research and Writing Program, and assistant professor of Legal Research and Writing at the University of Kentucky College of Law, has won an appeal for a pro bono case on behalf of appellant Jose Ramirez.
Ramirez, an inmate in a Kentucky prison, was found guilty in a prison disciplinary hearing of being involved in a physical action against another inmate. Ramirez, who represented himself in his case, was in fact asleep in his dorm at the time of the assault.
The victim was willing to testify that Ramirez was not involved in the assault, and prison surveillance video would have confirmed this. However, the prison administrative officer refused Ramirez’s requests to allow testimony from the victim and to have the administrative officer review the relevant surveillance video.
Instead, the officer found Ramirez guilty and assessed a penalty of 180 days in solitary confinement, loss of two years of good-time credit, and $556.17 in restitution. Ramirez appealed to the Kentucky courts. After losing at the trial court and the intermediate court of appeals, Ramirez appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court, at which time Henke was appointed to serve as counsel.
Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion that reversed the lower court opinion, finding that Ramirez’s due process rights were violated by the Kentucky Department of Corrections administrative officer in connection with the disciplinary proceeding.
“It is not only a favorable opinion for my client, but also an important one for all Kentucky prisoners going forward,” Henke said.
The Kentucky Supreme Court made two significant rulings in the opinion. First, the court held that if an inmate challenges the denial of his request to call a particular witness at a disciplinary hearing, the officer “must provide for the record on review, the [officer’s] reason for denying the witness.” Second, the court held that an administrative officer “must review surveillance footage, or similar documentary evidence, if requested by the prisoner in a disciplinary proceeding.” The opinion is set to published, which means it will be precedent in future disciplinary proceedings.
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