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Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.


DOCKET NO. A–2860–12T4

    Decided: March 27, 2014

Before Judges Waugh and Nugent.Darrell Stewart, appellant pro se. John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent;  (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel;  Lucy E. Fritz, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Appellant Darrell Stewart appeals the final administrative agency decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC) imposing discipline.   We affirm.

We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.   Stewart is confined at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.   In the course of a larger investigation, investigators determined that Stewart was using a cellphone in the prison.   He was charged with prohibited act *.009,  possession of an electronic communication device, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4–4.1(a).

Although the actual offense took place in 2011, because of the ongoing investigation Stewart was not charged until August 2012.   The disciplinary hearing began on August 20.   Stewart pled not guilty and was allowed the assistance of a counsel substitute.   The hearing was adjourned several times so the hearing officer could review confidential investigative reports and for a witness confrontation involving one of the investigators.

The hearing concluded on September 13, at which time the hearing officer found Stewart guilty and imposed sanctions including fifteen days detention, with credit for time served, 365 days of administrative segregation, and 365 days of lost commutation time.   Stewart filed an administrative appeal, which was denied on December 28.   This appeal followed.

On appeal, Stewart argues that (1) the finding of guilt was not supported by substantial evidence and (2) the disciplinary report was not timely served.   Having reviewed Stewart's arguments in light of the applicable law and the facts in the record, we find them to be without merit and not requiring extended discussion in a written opinion.   R. 2:11–3(e)(1)(E).   We add only the following.

Our role in reviewing the decision of an administrative agency is limited.   In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999);  Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997).   We will not upset the determination of an administrative agency absent a showing that it was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable;  that there was a lack of fair support in the evidence;  or that the decision violated legislative policies.  In re Musick, 143 N.J. 206, 216 (1996);  Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579–80 (1980);  Campbell v. Dep't of Civil Serv., 39 N.J. 556, 562 (1963).   Substantial evidence is “ ‘such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’ ”  In re Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 35 N.J. 358, 376 (1961) (quoting In re Hackensack Water Co., 41 N.J.Super. 408, 418 (App.Div.1956)).

Further, decisions of administrative agencies carry with them a presumption of reasonableness.  City of Newark v. Natural Res. Council, 82 N.J. 530, 539, cert. denied, 449 U.S. 983, 101 S.Ct. 400, 66 L. Ed.2d 245 (1980).   We may not vacate an agency's determination because of doubts as to its wisdom or because the record may support more than one result.  De Vitis v. N.J. Racing Comm'n, 202 N.J.Super. 484, 489–90 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 102 N.J. 337 (1985).

Because prison discipline is not part of a criminal prosecution, the full spectrum of rights due to a defendant in a criminal proceeding does not apply.  Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 522 (1975).   The DOC must facilitate an informal hearing to ensure that disciplinary findings are based upon verified facts and the use of discretion is informed by accurate knowledge of an inmate's behavior.  McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 195 (1995).   Our Supreme Court has recognized that the DOC's regulations for disciplinary hearings “strike the proper balance between the security concerns of the prison, the need for swift and fair discipline, and the due process rights of the inmates.”  Id. at 202.

The hearing officer found that a cellphone registered to someone associated with Stewart was used to converse with Stewart's relatives.   The voice on the cellphone was determined to be Stewart's, based on comparison with his voice recorded from the inmate telephone system.   We are satisfied that the hearing officer's decision was supported by the evidence before her, some of it confidential, that the confidential evidence was sufficiently summarized for Stewart, and that he was not entitled to review the raw investigative reports.   The delay in bringing specific charges against Stewart, which would ordinarily have been served within forty-eight hours of the offense, as required by N.J.A.C. 10A:4–9.2, resulted from the ongoing nature of the overall investigation.   That was an exceptional circumstance justifying delay under the cited regulation.



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