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Lane v. Director, TDCJ-ID

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division

March 29, 2018



          Ron Clark, United States District Judge

         The Petitioner Michael Lane, proceeding pro se, filed this application for the writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §2254 complaining of a classification and housing change during his confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division. This Court referred the matter to the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1) and (3) and the Amended Order for the Adoption of Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to United States Magistrate Judges.

         I. Lane's Claims

         In his petition, Lane states that he is classified as a “3g” prisoner [i.e. serving an aggravated sentence or convicted of one of a list of violent crimes] and thus had to serve 10 years before being eligible for a promotion to minimum custody (G2), from medium custody (G3). In December of 2012, he was moved to minimum custody.

         On September 2, 2016, however, he was reclassified back down to medium custody. He was told this was done pursuant to what Lane describes as “a repealed and deleted legislative bill, to-wit SB-341.” The prison officials would not give him a copy of the bill, but told him it had been passed in 1987. Lane argues that he has met the prison's requirements as well as the requirements of the Texas Government Code and should be allowed to remain in minimum custody.

         According to Lane, other similarly situated prisoners are allowed to remain in minimum custody. He contends that he is a “writ writer” and has provided legal advice to numerous other inmates.

         Lane states that he is being classified under the “Life Without Parole” sentence guidelines even though he was not sentenced to life without parole. As a result, he complains that he is prohibited from seeking rehabilitation or a safer housing area, and he has been provided with no paperwork or documents to justify this decision. He did receive a response to a Step Two grievance, which reads as follows:

A review of your Step One grievance has been conducted and you were appropriately advised at the unit level. Due to Legislature's passing SB341, calculation of stacked sentences changed from cumulative totaling of all sentences to requiring inmates to serve them consecutively with separate parole review for each sentence. TDCJ Administration determined that offenders who must serve a minimum of 60 years flat before they are eligible for release are serving the consecutive equivalent of life without parole and LWOP offenders should remain in G-3 custody throughout the duration of their incarceration. Due to your two life sentences your G-3 custody is appropriate. No. further action is warranted.

         II. The Report of the Magistrate Judge

         After review of the pleadings, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report recommending that Lane's petition be denied. The Magistrate Judge observed that Lane is serving two consecutive life sentences for aggravated sexual assault of a child, and as such, he must serve 60 years before becoming eligible for parole.

         The Magistrate Judge stated that in July of 2005, TDCJ-CID implemented a regulation providing that prisoners sentenced to life without parole cannot be placed in minimum custody, but can be promoted to higher than G3 medium custody. According to the response to Lane's grievance, the prison administration considers him to be serving the equivalent of life without parole because he must serve 60 calendar years before becoming eligible for parole. Because he is serving the functional equivalent of life without parole, he is not eligible for minimum custody.

         The Magistrate Judge determined that as a general rule, prisoners do not have a liberty interest in their custodial classification, although a narrow exception exists where the challenged classification amounts to an atypical and significant hardship in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. The Magistrate Judge stated that requiring Lane to remain in medium custody did not amount to an atypical or significant hardship and did not implicate any constitutionally protected liberty interests.

         The Magistrate Judge further stated that the fact that Lane was not formally sentenced to “life without parole” did not deprive him of any protected liberty interest in the fact that the prison treats his sentence as the functional equivalent of life without parole. The on-line records of TDCJ show that Lane was 41 years old when he received two consecutive life sentences, meaning he will be eligible for parole when he is 101 years old.

         Although Lane complained that similarly situated prisoners are permitted to have minimum custody status, the Magistrate Judge noted that Lane did not identify any such persons. Thus, the Magistrate Judge ...

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