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9th Circuit: Prisoner Has Right to Examine Evidence in Drug Consipiracy Case

Melnik v. Dzurenda Docket: 20-15378, Opinion Date: September 27, 2021. Melnik, a Nevada prisoner, was charged with unauthorized or inappropriate use of the prison mail system after prison officials intercepted two envelopes addressed to him that contained methamphetamine in secret compartments in the enclosed letters. Melnik asked several times to examine the envelopes or copies of the envelopes, but those requests were denied or ignored. At the prison disciplinary hearing, images of the envelopes and information about their contents were the only evidence presented. Melnik testified that he was innocent and had been framed by other inmates but was found guilty. Melnik filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against six former or current employees of the Nevada Department of Corrections, alleging they denied him the ability to examine the evidence before the prison disciplinary proceeding. The defendants sought summary judgment on the ground that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of their motion. Melnik had a constitutional right under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to be permitted to examine documentary evidence for use in the prison disciplinary hearing; that right was clearly established at the time when Melnik was denied access to the material.

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