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Hawkins v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections


September 17, 2007


On appeal from Final Administrative Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted September 10, 2007

Before Judges A.A. Rodríguez and C.S. Fisher.

Appellant Michael Hawkins was an inmate at Southern State Correctional Facility in Delmont when charged with committing prohibited act *.004, fighting with another person, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a).*fn1 After considering the evidence, the hearing officer concluded that Hawkins violated this regulation and recommended detention of fifteen days, loss of commutation time of ninety days, and administration segregation for 300 days. Hawkins appealed to the prison administrator, who upheld the hearing officer's finding of guilt and adhered to the recommended sanctions. We find this final agency decision to be supported by sufficient credible evidence on the record as a whole, R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D), conclude there is insufficient merit in the arguments raised by Hawkins in this appeal, R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E), and affirm. We add only the following brief comments.

The underlying circumstances reveal that inmate Guerrier reported on April 18, 2006 that his cellmate, Ports, assaulted him at approximately 7:00 a.m. that morning with a "lock in a sock." When questioned that same day, Guerrier stated that he was also assaulted by inmates Ports, Kyle and Lee, at 10:30 p.m. on April 17, 2006; he additionally advised that Hawkins was directly involved in the first assault and acted as a "look out" during the second.

Hawkins denied he was involved in these events. He sought and was granted a counsel substitute. In addition, Hawkins requested statements from two inmates; both inmates stated that Hawkins was with them when the assaults occurred. Hawkins also argued that a written statement provided to the hearing officer by inmate Guerrier did not identify him as a participant in either assault. However, the investigating officer's evidence, which included other Guerrier statements that implicated Hawkins, convinced the hearing officer that Hawkins had engaged in the prohibited conduct.

In appealing, Hawkins mainly argues that the evidence failed to support a finding that he engaged in a fight with another inmate. Certainly, Hawkins is correct that the hearing officer was presented with exculpatory evidence. However, there was also evidence in the record that implicated Hawkins, particularly statements made by Guerrier to the investigating officer. In his written decision, the hearing officer thoroughly described the evidence presented and explained why he concluded that Hawkins had engaged in the prohibited conduct charged. Our standard of review prevents our second-guessing of these factual determinations.

We only intervene in such matters when the agency's decision is arbitrary, capricious or unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 657 (1999); Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579 (1980). Substantial evidence is defined as "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion." In re Application of Hackensack Water Co., 41 N.J. Super. 408, 418 (App. Div. 1956). Because the record reveals that there was substantial evidence to support the agency's findings, we must defer.


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