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Barnes v. New Jersey State Parole Board


May 8, 2008


On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.

Per curiam.


Submitted April 2, 2008

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Messano.

Tyrone Barnes is an inmate currently incarcerated at East Jersey State Prison (EJSP). He appeals from a final agency decision of the New Jersey State Parole Board (Parole Board) recalculating his parole eligibility date from April 2005 to June 2008. We affirm.

On April 7, 1995, Barnes was sentenced to an aggregate thirty years incarceration, with a mandatory minimum period of parole ineligibility of ten years, arising out of his conviction for five counts of robbery, two counts of unlawful possession of a weapon, two counts of receiving stolen property, and one count each of burglary, criminal restraint and obstruction of the administration of law.

On January 6, 2003, while incarcerated at Northern State Prison (NSP), a two-member Parole Board panel considered Barnes for parole. The panel denied parole and referred the matter to a three-member panel to establish a future eligibility term (FET). On April 23, 2003, the three-member panel convened and established a ninety-six month FET. Barnes appealed this determination. On appeal, we affirmed the denial of parole in an unpublished opinion but reversed the ninety-six month FET and directed the Parole Board to establish a thirty-six month FET. Barnes v. N.J. State Parole Bd., No. A-100-04T3 (App. Div. May 20, 2005). In accordance with our decision, Barnes' FET was amended to thirty-six months. After giving Barnes 252 commutation credits, his parole eligibility date (PED) was established as April 29, 2005.

On June 20, 2005, the Information Certification Unit (Unit) within the Parole Board reviewed Barnes' PED and concluded that the April 2005 PED did not reflect the loss of commutation credits resulting from a May 15, 2005 infraction for which Barnes received 365 days loss of commutation credits. The Unit recalculated his PED to reflect those lost credits, resulting in a revised PED of December 26, 2005. On June 21, 2005, Barnes was transferred from NSP to New Jersey State Prison (NJSP). On October 27, 2005, Barnes was once again considered for parole. The Board denied parole and established a new thirty-six month FET. When the new FET was entered into the system, the algorithm (Automated PED Calculation System) overrode the manually calculated PED of December 26, 2005. The new PED was fixed at July 29, 2007. On April 24, 2006, Barnes' PED was updated to reflect a January 18, 2006 infraction for which Barnes received a sixty-day loss of commutation credits. At that time, the new PED was set at September 28, 2007.

On August 29, 2006, Barnes was transferred from NJSP to EJSP. The Unit reviewed Barnes' PED and determined that his PED had not been properly calculated because the 365-day loss of commutation credits stemming from the May 2005 infraction that had originally been included in establishing his PED in June 2005 had apparently been mistakenly overridden when his PED was recalculated following the denial of parole in October 2005.

Upon recalculation, it was determined that Barnes' correct PED was June 6, 2008.

On October 4, 2006, Barnes completed an Administrative Remedy Form challenging the recalculation. According to Barnes, a parole employee told him that the updated calculation was not certified or verified; however, no recalculation was undertaken, as the Parole Board apparently concluded the June 6, 2008 date was correct. Barnes' timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Barnes claims that the Parole Board's recalculation of his PED as June 6, 2008 is manifestly mistaken, resulting in an enhancement of his sentence "by twenty months twelve days for a single infraction that he only los[t] 365 days against." We disagree.

Parole Board decisions are highly "individualized discretionary appraisals." Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 166 N.J. 113, 173 (2001) (quoting Beckworth v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 62 N.J. 348, 359 (1973)) (internal quotations omitted). The Parole Board is the administrative agency charged with the responsibility of deciding whether an inmate satisfies the criteria for parole release. In re Hawley, 98 N.J. 108, 112 (1984). In that regard, the public has a legitimate interest in a correct parole eligibility decision. Id. at 114 (citing N.J. Parole Board v. Byrne, 93 N.J. 192, 210 (1983)). Otherwise, a dangerous prisoner may be released into the community. Ibid. Therefore, judicial review of a Parole Board decision is limited. Trantino, supra, 166 N.J. at 173. Nonetheless, we are guided by the same principles that inform our review of the actions of any administrative agency, namely, whether the Parole Board, in the exercise of its powers acted arbitrarily or capriciously or unreasonably. Ibid.

Here there is no question that Parole Board employees made a number of mistakes in calculating Barnes' PED. We appreciate Barnes' apparent confusion and frustration occasioned by staff errors. Nonetheless, the fifteen-month period after our decision, during which Barnes' PED was miscalculated on at least two occasions, does not reflect any evidence that the actions of the Parole Board were undertaken arbitrarily, capriciously or unreasonably.

Because of their expertise, administrative agencies are afforded wide discretion in the means utilized to fulfill their delegated tasks. Emmer v. Merin, 233 N.J. Super. 568, 581 (App. Div.), certif. den., 118 N.J. 181 (1989). The discretion accorded to an administrative agency's expertise is not grounded in the expectation that the agency will perform its delegated tasks without mistakes. Rather, the deference to that wide discretion requires that we review the agency action with the objective to determine whether, in the first instance, there is sufficient credible evidence to support the administrative action, and, secondly, whether, in the exercise of its power, the administrative agency acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Trantino, supra, 166 N.J. at 172-73.

Measured against this standard, we are satisfied that there is sufficient credible evidence in the record to support the determination that Barnes' PED was miscalculated on at least two occasions, warranting correction. We are also satisfied that the actions the Parole Board took to correct the errors on each occasion were not undertaken in an arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable manner. Ibid.



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