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Meagher v. Dep't of Corrections

April 21, 2009

JAMES MEAGHER, 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NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION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 April 1, 2009

Before Judges Waugh and Ashrafi.

James Meagher, a state prison inmate, appeals disciplinary sanctions imposed upon him for threatening a corrections officer. He denies that he made any threat. At his disciplinary hearing, the evidence was solely the officer's word against the inmate's. Because the prison administrator did not give an adequate reason for denying the inmate's request for a polygraph examination to support his credibility, we remand to the Department of Corrections either to administer a polygraph and reconsider the charge or to provide an adequate explanation for denying the inmate's request.

On May 12, 2008, appellant Meagher was charged with threatening an officer with bodily harm. The accusing officer reported that at 2:25 p.m. on that date:

While ordering I/M Meagher to clear the floor, this I/M stated to this officer 'Don't think your going to change this tier; you'll get f****d up'. I/M Meagher was loitering on the flats next to the dayroom.

Meagher gave the following statement as his version of the incident:

I was in the dayroom. When I exited the dayroom he told me to go back in the dayroom. He was not by his desk. He was on the stairs. He said, "Don't try anything new." Nobody made a threat. The only thing I said was, "Can I see a sgt." and went into the dayroom and waited for a sgt.

During a disciplinary hearing conducted over several days from May 15 to 21, 2008, Meagher was afforded the right to confront the accusing officer through written questions submitted to the hearing officer. His request for a polygraph examination was referred to the prison administrator and denied.

The hearing officer found Meagher guilty relying on "Staff reports/observation to support charge." The recommended sanctions of 15 days detention, 365 days administrative segregation, and 365 days loss of commutation time were adopted by the prison administration. Meagher appealed unsuccessfully to the prison administrator, and then filed a timely notice of appeal to this court.

In Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 523-24 (1975), the Supreme Court noted that a prison disciplinary proceeding is not a criminal prosecution and does not require the same due process protections as in criminal courts. See Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 489, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 2604, 33 L.Ed. 2d 484, 499 (1972). Nevertheless, the Court expanded the due process rights of New Jersey's inmates beyond the minimal federal constitutional rights required under Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 563-66, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 2978-79, 41 L.Ed. 2d 935, 955-56 (1974).

The due process rights of New Jersey inmates include: (1) written notice of the charges at least twenty-four hours before the hearing, (2) an impartial tribunal, (3) a limited right of the inmate to call witnesses and present documentary evidence, (4) a limited right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses in appropriate cases, (5) a written statement of the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the sanctions imposed, and (6) a limited right to the assistance of counsel substitute. Avant, supra, 67 N.J. at 525-39. The Court in Avant also held that disciplinary action may be taken where the inmate's involvement in the infraction is supported by "substantial evidence." Id. at 530.

Applying these due process rights to particular cases, we have previously addressed circumstances where the charge against the inmate is based entirely on uncorroborated accusations made by a corrections officer. In Decker v. New Jersey Department of ...


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