March 18, 2009
WILLIAM WADE, APPELLANT,
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 24, 2009
Before Judges Wefing and Parker.
Petitioner William Wade appeals from a decision by the Department of Corrections (DOC) dated June 11, 2008 denying him full minimum status. We affirm.
Petitioner is currently incarcerated at Mid-State Correctional Facility (MSCF) in Wrightstown on a thirteen-year sentence subject to eleven years, eighteen days parole ineligibility for attempted murder and robbery. The DOC classified him at gang minimum custody. In December 2007, the Classification Committee reviewed his status, leaving it at gang minimum custody because of the nature of his offense.
In June 2008, petitioner's request for full minimum status was again denied "due to the nature of your present offense,
[r]obbery. In that offense, you displayed a total disregard for human life in the use of a handgun. As stipulated in N.J.A.C. 10A, the Classification Committee can use this as one of the reasons to deny you further reduced custody status." The DOC further noted that "'[a] reduction in custody status is a privilege not a right.'"
In his appeal, petitioner argues:
NEITHER MR. WADE'S CONVICTION FOR ATTEMPTED MURDER AND ROBBERY, OR HIS PERMANENT STATUS AT MID-STATE CORRECTION FACILITY SHOULD HAVE DISQUALIFIED HIM FROM CONSIDERATION FOR FULL MINIMUM STATUS, GROUNDS ONLY
MID-STATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY FAILED TO ACKNOWLEDGE OR CONSIDER MR. WADE'S ACHIEVEMENTS, HIS DISCIPLINARY RECORDS AND HIS REHABILITATION PROGRESS, WHEN CONSIDERING HIM FOR FULL MINIMUM CUSTODY STATUS
Our scope of review of administrative decisions is narrowly circumscribed. In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 656 (1999). Our role is to determine "'whether the findings made could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record' considering 'the proofs as a whole'" and "'with due regard to the opportunity of the one who heard the witnesses to judge of their credibility.'" Ibid. (quoting Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965)). We "may not 'engage in an independent assessment of the evidence.'" Ibid. (quoting State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 471 (1999)). We will accord a strong presumption of reasonableness, Smith v. Ricci, 89 N.J. 514, 525 (1982), and give great deference to administrative decisions. State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 159 (1964). We do not, however, simply rubber stamp the agency's decision. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980). An administrative decision will be reversed only when it is found to be "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or it is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Ibid.
An inmate has no constitutionally protected interest or liberty interest in a reduced custody status. White v. Fauver, 219 N.J. Super. 170, 178-79 (App. Div. 1987); N.J.A.C. 10A:9-4.2 and -4.3(d). Moreover, classification decisions are reviewed periodically to assure that inmates are properly classified, and petitioner may request full minimum status at that time. Smith v. N.J. Dep't of Corrections, 346 N.J. Super. 24, 32 (App. Div. 2001).
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