On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 192 N.J. Super. 85 (1983).
For affirmance -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J. Handler, J., concurring. Justice Pollock joins in this concurrence. Handler and Pollock, JJ., concurring in the result.
[98 NJ Page 110] This case arose from an appeal by the Monmouth County Prosecutor to the Appellate Division from a decision of the State Parole Board to grant William Hawley parole from Trenton State Prison where he was serving a sentence of life
imprisonment for murder. Specifically, the Appellate Division in In re Hawley, 192 N.J. Super. 85 (1983) held that:
(1) A prosecutor has the right and authority to appeal any State Parole Board decision granting parole to a state prison inmate;
(2) A prosecutor is not entitled to receive from the Parole Board a statement of its reasons for granting parole; and
(3) The State Parole Board's decision to grant parole to Hawley was not arbitrary or capricious.
The Prosecutor petitioned for certification as to whether a prosecutor is entitled to receive from the State Parole Board (Board) a statement of the reasons why the Board has granted parole. The Prosecutor did not petition for review of the Appellate Division's decision that the Board's release of Hawley was not arbitrary or capricious. The State cross-petitioned as to whether a prosecutor has authority to appeal a decision of the Board. We granted both petitions of certification. 96 N.J. 285 (1984).
On July 6, 1967, Hawley pleaded non vult to murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In January, 1983 the Board gave public notice that it would conduct a parole eligibility hearing. N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.45(b)(5); N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.48(g). The Monmouth County Prosecutor filed a timely letter with the Board strongly objecting to Hawley's release and requesting that the Prosecutor be permitted to attend the parole hearing so that he could produce witnesses and/or evidence and argue orally against Hawley's release. Due to an administrative oversight, the parole hearing was held without notice to the Prosecutor. The Board, upon learning of this error, rescheduled the hearing. Two hearings were conducted at which the Prosecutor presented evidence, which included the testimony of several witnesses. The Prosecutor submitted written exceptions to the information presented at the hearings. Written summaries of the meeting were prepared by the hearing officer and made available to the parties.
After considering the hearing testimony, the Board advised the Prosecutor that it had approved Hawley's release. The Prosecutor immediately sent a mailgram to the Board requesting a written statement of the reasons upon which the Board had relied in making its decision to release Hawley and requested a stay of Hawley's release date pending receipt of such a statement. The Board denied both of the Prosecutor's requests, responding that it was "not legally required by statute or administrative regulations to provide a statement of reasons as to why parole is granted" and that "the Board sees no reason why the parole release date should be suspended."
The Prosecutor filed a notice of appeal to the Appellate Division with a motion for stay of Hawley's release pending appeal. The Appellate Division denied the motion for stay. The Prosecutor then filed a motion for stay with this Court. We stayed Hawley's release pending the Prosecutor's appeal and directed that the Appellate Division accelerate the matter.
While the Board does not question the authority of a prosecutor to seek judicial review of a Parole Board decision, it urges that as a matter of "judicial accommodation" the courts "should refrain from reviewing challenges to parole release decisions which are brought by a third party when the sole basis of the challenge on appeal is that the decision the Board reached on the merits is incorrect." We find little merit in this argument.
The Board is the administrative agency charged with the responsibility of deciding whether an inmate satisfies the criteria for parole release under the Parole Act of 1979. N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.45 to -123.69. We find no reason to exempt the Parole Board from the well-established principle that a court may review the actions of an administrative agency to determine if its power is being exercised arbitrarily or capriciously. See N.J. Const. (1947), Art. VI, § 5, para. 4; R. 2:2-3(a)(2); In re
Senior Appeals Examiners, 60 N.J. 356 (1972); Monks v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 58 N.J. 238 (1971). Moreover, we have held specifically that the Parole Board's actions are always "judicially reviewable for arbitrariness." Id., 58 N.J. at 242.
Furthermore, N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.45(b)(5) requires that a list of inmates being considered for parole be forwarded to the appropriate prosecutor's office. We held in In re Trantino, 89 N.J. 347 (1982) that the prosecutor must be given the opportunity to participate in parole eligibility hearings:
Because the Board's objective is to reach a reasoned and informed determination, it should permit the participation of parties and witnesses who can bring relevant evidence to bear upon the parole question. The Legislature has already indicated that the prosecutor can perform a special role in parole proceedings. See N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51(j) (giving prosecutor the right to defer the parole release of a pre-Code sentenced inmate who is a repeat offender whenever the prosecutor advises the Board that the punitive aspects of the inmate's sentence have not been satisfied). Those persons required by statute to be notified of parole proceedings, such as the Attorney General or county prosecutor, are parties familiar with the offender and the offense and can be helpful in the parole proceedings. Their role is to inform the Board. Such persons, upon request and subject to the discretion and ...