Sandin, Unit Team Manager, Halawa Correctional Facility v. Conner
Decided on June 19, 1995; 515 US 472


A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (prison), 14th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does a particular punishment segregating an inmate from the general prison population for violating a disciplinary rule deprive the inmate of "liberty" within the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause?


A. Background:

Respondent Conner alleged that petitioner, Unit Team Manager of Halawa Correctional Facility and other Hawaii prison officials, deprived him of procedural due process when an adjustment committee refused to allow him to present witnesses during a disciplinary hearing and subsequently sentenced him to segregation for misconduct.

The District Court granted the officials summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Conner had a liberty interest in remaining free of disciplinary segregation and that there was a disputed question of fact whether he had received all of the process due under Wolff v. McDonnell. The court based its conclusion on a prison regulation instructing the committee to find guilt when a misconduct charge is supported by substantial evidence, reasoning that the committee's duty to find guilt was nondiscretionary. From that regulation, the Court of Appeals concluded that the committee may not impose segregation if it does not find substantial evidence of misconduct, that it was a state-created liberty interest, and that therefore Wolff v. McDonnell entitled Conner to call witnesses.

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Paul L. Hoffman argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Gary L. Bostwick.

Steven S. Michaels, First Deputy Attorney General of Hawaii, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Margery S. Bronster, Attorney General of Hawaii, Robert A. Marks, former Attorney General, and Kathleen M. Sato, Deputy Attorney General.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Steven R. Shapiro, Carl Varady, Margaret Winter, Elizabeth Alexander, and Alvin J. Bronstein; and for the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic by Gary H. Palm.
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of New Hampshire et al. by Jeffrey R. Howard, Attorney General of New Hampshire, Douglas N. Jones, Assistant Attorney General, and Eleni M. Constantine, and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Grant Woods of Arizona, Winston Bryant of Arkansas, Donald E. Lungren of California, Gale A. Norton of Colorado, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, Larry EchoHawk of Idaho, Roland W. Burris of Illinois, Bonnie J. Campbell of Iowa, Robert T. Stephan of Kansas, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, J. Joseph Curran, Jr., of Maryland, Scott Harshbarger of Massachusetts, Hubert H. Humphrey III of Minnesota, Mike Moore of Mississippi, Jeremiah W. Nixon of Missouri, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Deborah T. Poritz of New Jersey, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Tom Udall of New Mexico, G. Oliver Koppell of New York, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Lee Fisher of Ohio, Susan B. Loving of Oklahoma, Theodore R. Kulongoski of Oregon, Ernest D. Preate, Jr., of Pennsylvania, T. Travis Medlock of South Carolina, Mark Barnett of South Dakota, Charles W. Burson of Tennessee, Jan Graham of Utah, Jeffrey L. Amestoy of Vermont, Rosalie S. Ballentine of the Virgin Islands, James S. Gilmore III of Virginia, Christine O. Gregoire of Washington, James E. Doyle of Wisconsin, and Joseph B. Meyer of Wyoming; and for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation by Kent S. Scheidegger and Charles L. Hobson.


"Neither the Hawaii prison regulation nor the Due Process Clause itself afford Conner a protected liberty interest that would entitle him to the procedural protections set forth in Wolff...

Under Wolff, States may in certain circumstances create liberty interests which are protected by the Due Process Clause. But these interests will generally be limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life... The methodology used in Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, and later cases has impermissibly shifted the focus of the liberty interest inquiry from one based on the nature of the deprivation to one based on language of a particular regulation. Under Hewitt's methodology, prison regulations, such the one in this case, have been examined to see whether mandatory language and substantive predicates create an enforceable expectation that the State would produce a particular outcome with respect to the prisoner's confinement conditions. This shift in focus has encouraged prisoners to comb regulations in search of mandatory language on which to base entitlements to various state-conferred privileges. Courts have, in response, drawn negative inferences from that language. Hewitt creates disincentives for States to codify prison management procedures in the interest of uniform treatment in order to avoid the creation of 'liberty' interests, and it has led to the involvement of federal courts in the day-to-day management of prisons. The time has come to return to those due process principles that were correctly established and applied in Wolff and Meachum...

Conner asserts, incorrectly, that any state action taken for a punitive reason encroaches upon a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause even in the absence of any state regulation...

Conner's discipline in segregated confinement did not present the type of atypical, significant deprivation in which a State might conceivably create a liberty interest. At the time of his punishment, disciplinary segregation mirrored those conditions imposed upon inmates in administrative segregation and protective custody. Moreover, the State later expunged his disciplinary record with respect to the more serious of the charges against him. And, his confinement did not exceed similar, but totally discretionary confinement in either duration or degree of restriction. Conner's situation also does not present a case where the State's action will inevitably affect the duration of his sentence, since the chance that the misconduct finding will affect his parole status is simply too attenuated to invoke the Due Process Clause's procedural guarantees... [R]eversed."

Justice Vote: 4 Pro vs. 5 Con

  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined minority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined minority opinion)

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the lower court's decision in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.