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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Prison Solitary Challenge Faces En Banc Review

(CN) - In a case that will decide the reach of habeas jurisdiction, the Ninth Circuit agreed Thursday to rehear a challenge to prison solitary confinement en banc.

Damous Nettles and Matta Juan Santos each filed habeas petitions against the state prison system seeking relief from their placement in solitary confinement.

Nettles lost 30 days of postconviction credit and was given a four-month term in the segregated housing unit - the sanitized lingo for solitary - after threatening to stab a corrections officer.

Santos was placed in the segregated housing unit indefinitely because prison investigators found he was an active member of the Mexican Mafia, a recognized gang.

In solitary confinement, the men spend 22 hours a day in their cells, cannot participate in education activities, and are denied contact visits and phone access.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit heard their case and ruled in May that Nettles' petition should be dismissed because there is no possible relief that would accelerate his future release date.

Applying the Supreme Court's decision in Skinner v. Switzer, the panel held that a claim challenging prison disciplinary proceedings may be challenged in a habeas petition only if it will "necessarily spell speedier release" from custody.

Santos found his petition reinstated, however, since the court found that his request for release into the general population can "fairly be described as a quantum change in the level of custody."

The opinion was mostly unanimous, but Judge Mary Murguia wrote a partial dissent that criticized the majority's "strained reading of Skinner," which interpreted the high court as having "conclusively determined the outer boundaries of habeas jurisdiction in a footnote of a case that did not involve a habeas petition."

Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote the majority opinion joined by Judge N. Randy Smith.

The court announced its intention to rehear the case en banc Thursday.

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