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Harden v. Dep't of Corrections

December 10, 2007

JAMAL HARDEN, APPELLANT,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.



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

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted November 8, 2007

Before Judges Axelrad and Sapp-Peterson.

This is a prison disciplinary appeal. Jamal Harden, an inmate currently confined at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, appeals a final determination of the Department of Corrections (DOC) finding him guilty of a drug-related disciplinary infraction. We affirm.

On March 19, 2006, corrections officers were en route to search the cell of Inmate Hawley. As they approached Hawley's cell, the officers observed Hawley walking towards them with a cooler. The officers stopped Hawley and confiscated the cooler, in which they found small pieces of white paper, a roll of tape, and a piece of paper containing a brown powder substance that officers suspected was a controlled dangerous substance (CDS). As this event was unfolding, Harden approached the officers and told them the cooler belonged to him. Harden was charged with disciplinary infraction *.203,*fn1 "possession or introduction of any prohibited substances such as drugs, intoxicants or related paraphernalia not prescribed for the inmate by the medical or dental staff," N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1.

Harden was served with the charge and an investigation commenced. Harden pleaded guilty to the charge, did not request an opportunity to make any further statements, and did not request any witness statements or an opportunity to confront any witnesses. The investigating officer determined that the charge had merit and forwarded the matter for a departmental hearing.

The hearing officer postponed a number of hearing dates pending the receipt of a certified copy of the laboratory (lab) report from the New Jersey State Police Office of Forensic Sciences (State Police) as well as at the request of Harden to prepare a defense. The lab tests were completed on May 22, 2006, and received by the institution on June 6, 2006. The results confirmed that the suspected CDS seized was heroin. Harden pleaded guilty to the charge and provided a signed statement to the hearing officer stating that he "[was] taking full responsibility for the drugs that was in the blue cooler that inmate Hawley . . . was apprehended with." The hearing officer adjudicated Harden guilty of the charge and imposed sanctions of a fifteen-day detention, a 300-day administrative segregation, a 300-day loss of commutation credit, permanent loss of contact visits, and 365 days of urine monitoring.

Harden administratively appealed the finding and sanctions imposed, raising, among other arguments, his claim that the lab report appeared altered and that there was cross-contamination of the CDS confiscated from his cooler with CDS seized in an unrelated matter when the drugs were sent together to the lab for testing. The adjudication and sanctions were upheld by the DOC's assistant superintendent. Harden's timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Harden raises the following points for our consideration:

POINT I

THE DECISION OF THE HEARING OFFICER VIOLATES DUE PROCESS AND THEREFORE, SHOULD BE VACATED.

(a) THE DECISION OF THE HEARING OFFICER SHOULD BE VACATED BECAUSE THE DETERMINATION WAS NOT BASED ON SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE AND APPELLANT'S INITIAL PLEA HAD BEEN WITHDRAWN.

(b) THE DECISION SHOULD BE VACATD BECAUSE THERE EXIST[S] A HIGHLY REASONABLE SUSPICION THAT THERE WAS A PROBABLE CROSS CONTAMINATION OF THE CDS RELATING TO THE FIRST ...


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