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Jones v. New Jersey State Parole Board


November 16, 2007


On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.

Per curiam.


Submitted September 19, 2007

Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Lyons.

Ronald Jones is a forty-nine year old inmate currently incarcerated at Northern State Prison in Newark who is appealing from a final agency decision of the New Jersey State Parole Board (the Board) denying him parole and imposing a thirty-six month future eligibility term (FET). Jones is currently serving a fifty-five year prison sentence that resulted from his 1981 convictions on four counts of aggravated sexual assault, one count of kidnapping and one count of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. The original judgment of conviction, dated October 19, 1981, was amended on April 19, 2006, to adjust jail credits and gap time credits. Jones has served more than twenty-five years of his sentence.

On December 7, 1980, Jones held a knife to a female victim while forcing her to exit a laundromat. When they reached an area behind an adjacent carwash, Jones forced the victim to perform fellatio and have sexual intercourse with him. During this incident, Jones also stole twenty-two dollars from the victim's purse. After the sexual assault at the carwash, Jones required the victim to drive to a nearby junior high school. He again sexually assaulted her at that location. After a June 10, 1981, jury trial, Jones was found guilty of all six counts charged in Cumberland County Indictment No. 308-80.

Jones first became eligible for parole on May 17, 2006. On September 1, 2006, a two member Board panel considered Jones' case. The panel denied parole and established a thirty-six month FET. Jones appealed that decision, but on December 21, 2006, the full Parole Board affirmed the denial of parole and the imposition of the thirty-six month FET. This appeal followed.

Jones contends that the Board acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in denying his parole and imposing the FET. The scope of judicial review of such administrative agency decisions is narrowly tailored. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). We must simply review whether there was sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the Board's conclusions. Ibid.; Clowes v. Terminix Int'l. Inc., 109 N.J. 575, 588 (1988); Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965). The Board's decisions are considered highly "'individualized discretionary appraisals,'" and consequently the "Board 'has broad but not unlimited discretionary powers'" in reviewing an inmate's parole record and rendering a release decision. Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 166 N.J. 113, 173 (2001) (Trantino VI) (quoting Beckworth v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 62 N.J. 348, 359 (1973)); see also Greenholtz v. Nebraska Penal Inmates, 442 U.S. 1, 9-10, 99 S.Ct. 2100, 2105, 60 L.Ed. 2d 668, 677 (1979) ("The parole-release decision . . . depends on an amalgam of elements, some of which are factual but many of which are purely subjective appraisals by the Board members based upon their experience with the difficult and sensitive task of evaluating the advisability of parole release").

The decision of the Board involves a "'discretionary assessment of a multiplicity of imponderables, entailing primarily what a man is and what he may become rather than simply what he has done.'" Id. at 10, 99 S.Ct. at 2105, 60 L.Ed. 2d at 677 (quoting Sanford H. Kadish, The Advocate and the Expert -- Counsel in the Peno-Correctional Process, 45 Minn. L. Rev. 803, 813 (1961)). One of these "imponderables" is the prediction of an inmate's future behavior, a prediction fraught with subjectivity, mandating broad discretion in the Board's decision-making process. Puchalski v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 104 N.J. Super. 294, 300 (App. Div.), aff'd, 55 N.J. 113 (1969), cert. denied, 398 U.S. 938, 90 S.Ct. 1841, 26 L.Ed. 2d 270 (1970). Because the parole decision process is inherently subjective, ultimately it must be made by those with experience and expertise in this field. See Beckworth, supra, 62 N.J. at 367-68; Greenholtz, supra, 442 U.S. at 10, 99 S.Ct. at 2105, 60 L.Ed. 2d at 677.

Keeping these standards in mind, it is clear that the Board considered all the relevant material facts and had sufficient credible evidence to deny Jones' parole request and to set a thirty-six month FET. See N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.11. Jones had a prior criminal record, showing an increasing degree of severity with each crime. He was being held for a multi-crime conviction. Furthermore, while in prison, Jones compiled thirty-two institutional infractions, including seven serious infractions. This resulted in a substantial loss of commutation time. To this day, Jones denies committing the crimes for which he was convicted and refuses to enter any programs to help resolve his criminal tendencies. He has not devised a plan for his life after parole, and his criminal evaluation test indicated he is a medium risk for recidivism. Considering this evidence, nothing appears to be arbitrary or capricious about the Board's action.

The rest of petitioner's arguments lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D).

Our review of the record and pertinent law does not reveal any reason to disturb the Board's findings.



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