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Alexander v. New Jersey Dep't of Corrections

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


July 26, 2010

ALI ALEXANDER, 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NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION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 June 16, 2010

Before Judges Chambers and Kestin.

Ali Alexander, an inmate at Northern State Prison, appeals from the April 27, 2009, disposition of his disciplinary appeal, upholding the hearing officer's decision that he was in possession of material related to a security threat group. We affirm.

During a routine cell search on April 16, 2009, a letter was found in Alexander's storage container that was believed to contain references to the Bloods, a gang considered to be a security threat group. As a result, Alexander was charged with the prohibited act of being in "possession . . . of anything related to a security threat group," N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a)*.011. The letter was confiscated and was reviewed by an investigator with the Special Investigations Division at the Department of Corrections, who concluded that the letter, which was addressed to Alexander, was related to the Bloods because of certain word usage and symbols in the letter.

At the hearing on the charge, Alexander pled guilty to the offense although he stated that he did not believe the letter was gang-related. He requested leniency, and, apparently, argued that the content of the letter posed no threat. The hearing officer concluded that the evidence substantiated the charge and found Alexander guilty of the offense. The hearing officer imposed as sanctions ten days detention, 180 days administrative segregation, and 180 days loss of commutation time. In explaining the reasons for the sanctions, the hearing officer wrote: "[Security threat group membership], activity [poses] a threat to institutional safety, security and control. Cannot minimize/condone. Mitigating facts/arguments are weighed. Need to deter."

Alexander appealed the decision, requesting leniency and disputing the interpretation of a symbol and one of the words in the letter as gang related. He also noted that the letter was written to him, and, thus, he did not have any control over its content. The administrator affirmed the decision of the hearing officer. Alexander appeals this decision to this court, raising the following point:

DENIED DUE PROCESS AS THE FINDING OF GUILT WAS NOT BASED UPON SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE THAT APPELLANT KNOWINGLY POSSESSED SO-CALLED/ALLEGED GANG RELATED MATERIAL.

Our role in reviewing an administrative decision is limited, and we may not "substitute our judgment for that of the agency where its findings are supported by substantial credible evidence in the record." Johnson v. Dep't of Corr., 375 N.J. Super. 347, 352 (App. Div. 2005). We must perform "more than a perfunctory review"; rather we must make a "careful and principled consideration of the agency record and findings."

Id. at 353 (quoting Williams v. Dep't of Corr., 330 N.J. Super. 197, 203-04 (App. Div. 2000)). We will not reverse an administrative agency's decision unless it is "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable or [] is not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole." Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J. Super. 18, 23 (App. Div. 2005) (alteration in original) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980)).

After a careful review of the record and the arguments set forth in the briefs in light of the relevant law, we conclude that the record contains substantial credible evidence to support the agency's findings. The record is undisputed that the letter was found among Alexander's possessions. An expert on security threat groups determined that the letter related to the Bloods, a security threat group. Alexander pled guilty to the charge although he requested leniency and disputed some of the conclusions of the expert. Thus, there is sufficient credible evidence to support the hearing officer's findings and the conclusions of the Department of Corrections that the letter related to a security threat group. The disciplinary sanction imposed was within reasonable institutional discretion, N.J.A.C. 10A:4-5.1(a)(1), (3), and (4). The issues raised in this appeal do not merit further discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).

Affirmed.

20100726

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