In the first disciplinary appeal he handled, Mr. O’Neil successfully appealed a disciplinary case that involved a loss of 10 years of good time credits. By getting that disciplinary case overturned, the client was released to mandatory supervision many years before he would have had the disciplinary punishment been sustained. While working for State Counsel for Offenders defending inmates who had been indicted in prison cases, he subpoenaed hundreds of disciplinary records and cross-examined numerous correctional officers concerning their offense reports. He is intimately familiar with the TDCJ disciplinary procedures.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has provided some due process protections in prison disciplinary cases, those protections are minimal. Further, to sustain a disciplinary case, the courts require only that the record of the disciplinary hearing contain “some evidence” of guilt. In reviewing disciplinary cases the courts also give great deference to the fact finding made by the disciplinary hearing officer. For these reasons, relief from prison disciplinary actions is extremely difficult and can be very expensive. To accommodate clients, Mr. O’Neil has found it most advantageous to divide his administrative relief process into two parts: the evaluation stage, and the administrative appeal stage.
Further, because of the short time limits for appealing prison disciplinary cases, administrative involvement in the case does not include the preparation of any appeal through the normal disciplinary appeal process. Those time constraints make it nearly impossible to rely upon the mail system to meet deadlines. The result could be the dismissal of an appeal for failure to timely file the appeal. As a result, the inmate will be expected to fully appeal the disciplinary case through the normal disciplinary appeal process. Mr. O’Neil’s efforts of this office will focus on possible remedies outside the normal disciplinary appeal process. Involvement in a disciplinary appeal generally presumes that the inmate concerned has not pled “guilty” at the discipline hearing. The ability to obtain relief in a case where there has been a guilty plea is extremely limited.