United States Fourth Circuit

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Prieto v. Clarke, 13-8021

In this case, plaintiff is a capital prisoner in the State of Virginia, and after incarceration on Virginia's death row for nearly six years as he pursued post-conviction challenges, plaintiff brought this action, alleging that his confinement on death row violated his procedural Due Process and Eighth Amendment rights. The district court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and issued an injunction ordering Virginia prison officials to either improve plaintiff's conditions of confinement or to prove him with an individualized classification determination for his prison housing. The judgment is reversed, where: 1) harsh and atypical confinement conditions in and of themselves do not give rise to a liberty interest in their avoidance; 2) in the unusual instances in which state law mandates the confinement conditions to be imposed on offenders convicted of certain crimes and receiving certain sentences, as with housing on death row for capital prisoners in Virginia, those confinement conditions are by definition the "ordinary incidents of prison life" for such offenders; and 3) pursuant to decisions of the US Supreme Court in Sandin v. Conner and Wilkinson v. Austin, a prisoner does not establish a state-created liberty interest in avoiding disciplinary segregated confinement if such confinement "does not present a dramatic departure form the basic conditions of the inmate's indeterminate sentence."

Appellate Information

  • Decided 03/10/2015
  • Published 03/10/2015


  • Motz


  • United States Fourth Circuit


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