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Daniels v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


April 24, 2009

ALLEN DANIELS, APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RESPONDENT.

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

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted March 17, 2009

Before Judges Skillman and Graves.

Allen Daniels, a state prison inmate, appeals from a final agency decision by the Department of Corrections (DOC) imposing disciplinary sanctions for committing prohibited act *.009, possession of a cell phone, not authorized for use or retention by an inmate; and prohibited act .013, unauthorized physical contact with a staff member. Daniels pled guilty to the unauthorized physical contact charge, and he was found guilty of possessing a cell phone by a hearing officer. Daniels filed an administrative appeal, and Administrator Grace Rogers upheld the guilty findings and the sanctions imposed on the unauthorized physical contact charge, but the sanctions imposed for the unauthorized possession of a cell phone were modified.

On appeal to this court, Daniels presents the following arguments:

POINT I

APPELLANT WAS DENIED EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF PARALEGAL COUNSEL DURING HIS PRISON DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS AND HIS PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS WERE VIOLATED BY [THE] DISCIPLINARY HEARING OFFICER WHEN HE REFUSED TO OBTAIN APPELLANT'S WRITTEN STATEMENT GIVEN TO SID INVESTIGATOR MICHAEL THOMPSON THE DAY AFTER THE INCIDENT.

A. PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS WERE VIOLATED BY [THE] DISCIPLINARY HEARING OFFICER [WHEN HE] FAILED TO OBTAIN APPELLANT'S WRITTEN STATEMENT GIVEN TO SID INVESTIGATOR MICHAEL THOMPSON.

B. APPELLANT WAS DENIED EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF PARALEGAL COUNSEL SUBSTITUTE DURING HIS PRISON DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS.

After reviewing the administrative record and the applicable law, we are satisfied that these arguments do not warrant extended discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). Nevertheless, we add the following comments.

The charges against Daniels resulted from an incident at the Bo Robinson Education and Training Center, a halfway house located in Trenton, New Jersey. At approximately 10:10 p.m. on March 3, 2008, Errol Coombs, a counselor at Bo Robinson, was conducting a room and locker search. Upon entering room number fourteen, Coombs observed Daniels take a black cell phone, which was attached to a charger, from under his pillow. Coombs asked Daniels to hand him the cell phone, but Daniels refused to do so and ran toward the doorway, where another counselor, Richard Thompson, was standing. As Daniels was running towards the door, Coombs shouted to Thompson to stop him. However, Daniels pushed Thompson out of the way and ran out of the room. After Coombs and Thompson reported the incident to their supervisor, Daniels was charged with committing prohibited acts *.009 and .013. The cell phone was never recovered.

The next day, on March 4, 2008, Daniels gave a written statement to the Special Investigation Division. In his statement, Daniels claimed that he "had food [he] should not have had," and he "ran out of the room to put the food in the toilet." Daniels denied having a cell phone, and he claimed he "never put [his] hands on anyone."

At his disciplinary hearing on March 6, 2008, Daniels pled guilty to prohibited act .013, unauthorized physical contact with a staff member and, based on the incident reports prepared by Coombs and Thompson, the hearing officer found Daniels guilty of committing prohibited act *.009, unauthorized possession of a cell phone. Daniels did not call any witnesses or make any statements at his disciplinary hearing, and he did not ask to confront or cross-examine adverse witnesses.

In his administrative appeal, which Daniels signed on March 6, 2008, Daniels did not contend that his disciplinary hearing was unfair or that counsel substitute, James Bartley, was ineffective. Instead, he stated that he accepted "full responsibility for his actions," and he requested leniency.

There must be "substantial evidence" to support a finding of guilt at a disciplinary hearing. Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 530 (1975); N.J.A.C. 10A:4-9.15(a) ("A finding of guilt at a disciplinary hearing shall be based upon substantial evidence that the inmate has committed a prohibited act."). Substantial evidence is "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." In re Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 35 N.J. 358, 376 (1961) (quoting In re Application of Hackensack Water Co., 41 N.J. Super. 408, 418 (App. Div. 1956)).

In the present matter, our review of the administrative record confirms that the disciplinary proceedings were conducted in accordance with all applicable due process protections, see Avant v. Clifford, supra, 67 N.J. at 525-533; Jacobs v. Stephens, 139 N.J. 212 (1995); McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188 (1995), and it is clear that the final administrative decisions by the DOC are supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(D).

Affirmed.

20090424

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