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Stevenson v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections


August 15, 2007


On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted August 7, 2007

Before Judges Sabatino and Baxter.

This is an appeal from a final agency decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (Corrections) imposing disciplinary sanctions upon East Jersey State Prison inmate Duane Stevenson, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). A hearing officer found Stevenson guilty of committing prohibited act .210, "possession of [items] not authorized for retention or receipt by an inmate or not issued to him . . . through regular correctional facility channels," in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). The prohibited items consisted of twelve toasted sandwiches and three postage stamps, which Stevenson was attempting to deliver on a food cart to inmates in a detention unit of the prison, even though prison regulations prohibited such items from being distributed there. After finding Stevenson guilty, the hearing officer imposed a sanction, which consisted of referring Stevenson to the classification committee for a "job review" to determine if his food cart job should be terminated. Following an unsuccessful appeal to the prison administrator, Stevenson filed his notice of appeal to this Court.

On appeal, he raises the following claims: there was insufficient evidence to support the finding of guilt because others could have had access to the food cart and placed the contraband there without Stevenson's knowledge, and accordingly the finding of guilt violated his right to due process. We affirm.

Our scope of review is a narrow one, and Stevenson's contentions are reviewed in accordance with that standard. We must affirm unless the agency's decision was arbitrary, unreasonable, unsupported by credible evidence in the record or contrary to law. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). Here, despite Stevenson's arguments, we are satisfied that the finding that he knowingly possessed the prohibited sandwiches and postage stamps is supported by substantial credible evidence in the record.

The hearing officer considered the report of Corrections Officer Michael DeLucca who reported finding the contraband items during a routine search of Stevenson's food cart before Stevenson began the deliveries to the detention unit. He also considered the report from Institutional Trade Instructor Rodney Wallen who searched the food cart in the kitchen prior to Stevenson taking possession of it and did not observe the sandwiches on the cart. Based upon those reports and on prison regulations requiring Stevenson to inspect his cart before making deliveries, the hearing officer rejected Stevenson's claim that he had no knowledge of the contraband. Under those circumstances, the finding of guilt is supported by substantial credible evidence in the record.

We likewise reject Stevenson's claim that he was improperly denied access to a videotape of the mess hall prior to the discovery of the contraband on his cart. First, there is nothing in the record of the adjudication demonstrating that Stevenson ever asked for or was denied the ability to review any alleged videotape of the prison mess hall. To the contrary, Stevenson offered only one statement in his defense, in which he denied knowledge of the contraband, but did not mention any request for videotape evidence. Additionally, his signature on line sixteen of the adjudication report constitutes his agreement that the written summary accurately reflects what occurred at the courtline hearing. We have been presented with nothing to substantiate Stevenson's assertion that any such videotape of his food cart ever existed.

Moreover, Stevenson received all the process he is due under law. McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 202-03 (1995). Appellant received twenty-four hours' notice of the charge prior to the hearing, the hearing was timely, the hearing was conducted by a member of the agency hearing officer staff, counsel substitute was offered, but declined, Stevenson had the opportunity to make a statement, and he was afforded the opportunity to cross-examine adverse witnesses.



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