WOLFF v. MCDONNELL

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
73-679
Petitioner 
Charles Wolff, Jr., et al.
Respondent 
Robert O. McDonnell, et al.
Advocates
(for the petitioner)
(for the U.S. as amicus curiae)
Tags
Term:
Facts of the Case 

An inmate of a Nebraska state prison started a class action lawsuit, on behalf of himself and other inmates, alleging that prison disciplinary proceedings violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The suit also objected to the prison’s inspection of privileged mail between inmates and their attorneys. The district court rejected the disciplinary proceeding claims, but held that the inspection of mail violated the prisoners’ right of access to the courts. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed on the disciplinary proceeding claims, holding that prisons should use the procedures used in probation and parole hearings for disciplinary proceeding. The court also affirmed the district court as to the inspection of mail.

Question 

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

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for Wolff, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Due Process

Yes. In a 6-3 vote Justice Byron R. White wrote for the majority reversing in part and affirming in part. The Supreme Court held that while prisoners are not entitled to full due process protections, disciplinary proceedings must include written notice to the defendant of the charges, a written statement of evidence, and the opportunity for an inmate to call witnesses and present evidence. The Court allowed for discretion by officials to deny a prisoner the right to present evidence or call witnesses if it would be “unduly hazardous to institutional safety.” The Court also held that prison official’s opening of privileged letters in the presence of other inmates was not unconstitutional.

Justice Thurgood Marshall dissented in part, stating that the inmate’s right to present evidence and call witnesses is constitutionally protected and should not be abridged. Justice William J. Brennan Jr. joined. Justice Douglass wrote a dissent, saying that prisoners are entitled to all due process protections when they are faced with an substantial deprivation of liberty in the prison.

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WOLFF v. MCDONNELL. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 01 September 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1973/1973_73_679>.
WOLFF v. MCDONNELL, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1973/1973_73_679 (last visited September 1, 2014).
"WOLFF v. MCDONNELL," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed September 1, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1973/1973_73_679.