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Kwanzaa v. New Jersey State Parole Board

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


December 19, 2008

CHAKA KWANZAA, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY STATE PAROLE BOARD, RESPONDENT.

On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 28, 2008

Before Judges Fuentes and Chambers.

Appellant Chaka Kwanzaa is an inmate serving an aggregate term of twenty-three years for two counts of robbery.*fn1 He committed the crimes in 1991. He was paroled to a Halfway Back program on February 13, 2007.

Less than a month thereafter, appellant had an incident with a staff member of the facility. Although the complainant did not appear at the hearing, appellant acknowledged, through his testimony, that he behaved inappropriately, expressed remorse and accepted responsibility for his actions. As a result, he was expelled from the facility.

On May 23, 2007, a two-member panel of the Parole Board found that appellant had violated the terms of his parole by failing to complete the Halfway Back program. The panel decided however, to continue appellant's parole status and placed him in a Halfway Back program for an additional 90 to 180 days. The panel ordered, as a special condition of parole, for appellant to comply with all of the rules and regulations of the new facility, Hope Hall.

On August 30, 2007, appellant was terminated from Hope Hall for multiple incidents involving the use of abusive and obscene language against staff, intimidation and threats directed at a staff member's family, and physically menacing behavior against a staff member. The complaint alleged that appellant remained undeterred despite repeated warnings against engaging in this type of conduct. Without engaging in a needlessly graphic description, suffice it to say that the language attributable to appellant involved racial slurs, bigoted, homophobic and sexist remarks, all peppered with profanities.

The following day, August 31, 2007, the Board issued a Notice of Probable Cause, describing in detail the dates and nature of the incidents giving rise to appellant's parole violation. Appellant was arrested on that same day. A formal hearing was held on September 26, 2007, in which the State presented evidence in support of the charges. Appellant was permitted to cross-examine the witness called against him. When he testified, appellant admitted to having used abusive and obscene language against staff members of Hope Hall, and to having engaged in physically menacing behavior against a specific staff member. The hearing officer found that appellant had violated the terms of his parole.

On October 3, 2007, the two-member panel adopted the hearing officer's findings and revoked appellant's parole, fixing a twelve-month future parole eligibility term (FET). On appeal, the full Board reviewed the matter de novo, and confirmed the panel's decision. In so doing, the Board noted that appellant had been placed in two separate Halfway Back facilities, all without success. The Board thus opined that appellant was not a suitable candidate for placement in community based facilities.

Appellant now appeals from the Board's decision, raising the following arguments:

POINT I APPELLANT'S RIGHTS TO CONFRONTATION CROSS-EXAMINATION WAS ARBITRARILY DENIED.

POINT II APPELLANT'S RIGHTS TO PRESENT DOCUMENT EVIDENCE WAS ARBITRARILY DENIED.

POINT III RESPONDENTS ARBITRARILY "RETALIATED" AGAINST APPELLANT FOR APPELLANT HAVING FILE PRIOR AND PRESENT REDRESS WITH THE COURT AGAINST RESPONDENTS.

We reject these arguments and affirm. Our standard of review of final decisions of a State administrative agency is limited. We must accord these decisions a "strong presumption of reasonableness." B.D. v. Div. of Med. Assistance & Health Servs., 397 N.J. Super. 384, 390 (App. Div. 2007), (quoting In re Vey, 272 N.J. Super. 199, 205 (App. Div. 1993), aff'd, 135 N.J. 306 (1994)). We will thus reverse only if the decision is arbitrary or capricious or otherwise not supported by competent evidence. Hare v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 368 N.J. Super. 175, 180 (App. Div.) certif. denied, 180 N.J. 452 (2004). By the nature of the review itself, decisions of the Parole Board are "highly individualized appraisals." Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 166 N.J. 113, 173, modified, 167 N.J. 619 (2001).

From the record before us, we discern no legal basis to interfere with the Board's decision. Appellant admitted the essence of the allegations that led to his parole revocation. Appellant's argument point alleging a denial of his right to cross-examination is misplaced. Although the complainant covering the first incident did not appear, appellant admitted to all of the allegations against him. Furthermore, the first incident did not result in any adverse action against him.

At the revocation hearing for the second incident, appellant was permitted to cross-examine the witness called to attest to the incidents concerning the staff at the Halfway Back program. The record is clear that appellant was given the opportunity for redemption after he failed to abide by the rules of the first facility. This proved ineffectual. His continued unacceptable behavior is well-documented, and has proven heretofore not amenable to remediation. The Board's decision is amply supported by the record.

Affirmed.


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