On appeal from a Final Decision of the Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 25, 2011
Before Judges Wefing and Koblitz.
Jesus Cintron is an inmate in the custody of the Department of Corrections. He appeals from a Final Decision of the Department finding him guilty of disciplinary infraction *.009, possession of electronic equipment not authorized for use by an inmate. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
Cintron was an inmate at Northern State Prison on the date in question, October 25, 2009, and assigned to a minimum security dormitory area with fifteen other inmates, all of whom shared a communal bathroom. Shortly before noon, Cintron, together with several other inmates, was in the bathroom preparing for a visit. A corrections officer, Sergeant Plummer, ordered the inmates to line up to be searched. In the subsequent report he prepared, Sergeant Plummer wrote that he "observed I/M Cintron . . . go into the bathroom and try to flush a cell phone in the toilet." The cell phone did not go down, and Sergeant Plummer retrieved it and Cintron was taken into custody. A search of his person and his dorm area did not lead to the discovery of any other contraband. Cintron signed a form acknowledging seizure of the cell phone.
Counsel substitute was assigned to represent Cintron at the disciplinary hearing, the conduct of which was adjourned on a number of occasions to permit Cintron to prepare. Although his request for a polygraph was denied, he was afforded his right of confrontation, and his counsel substitute prepared an extensive list of questions for Sergeant Plummer. His answers, together with the various investigative reports, were all submitted to the hearing officer. The hearing officer concluded that the charge had been substantiated and imposed sanctions. Cintron appealed to the prison administrator, who upheld the finding of guilt but modified the sanctions. This appeal followed.
On appeal, Cintron presents the following arguments for our consideration.
POINT I THE DECISION OF THE HEARING OFFICER AS AFFIRMED BY PRISON ADMINISTRATION MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE IT WAS NOT SUPPORTED BY SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
POINT II THE DECISION BELOW MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE DENIAL OF CINTRON'S REQUEST FOR A POLYGRAPH WAS UNREASONABLE UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
We reject these contentions and affirm.
We note first the standard governing our review of these arguments. An appellate court should not overturn a final administrative decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Karins v. City of Atl. City, 152 N.J. 532, 540 (1998). The agency's findings should be affirmed if they "could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record, considering the proofs as a whole . . . with due regard also to the agency's expertise." Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965) (internal quotations omitted). It is particularly appropriate that we recognize such expertise when dealing with matters of prison administration.
Pryor v. Dep't of Corr., 395 N.J. Super. 471, 476-77 (App. Div. 2007). We are, nonetheless, called upon to make a "careful and principled consideration of the agency record and findings. While our scope of review is limited, we cannot be relegated to a mere rubber-stamp of agency action." Williams v. Dep't of Corr., 330 N.J. Super. 197, 204 (App. Div. 2000) (citations omitted).
We also note the settled law that inmate disciplinary appeals are not part of the criminal justice system and that inmates are not afforded the panoply of procedural rights afforded to an individual defending against a criminal charge. In Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 525-30 (1975), the Supreme Court summarized the rights available to an inmate charged with a disciplinary infraction. These include receiving written notice of the charges at least twenty-four hours in advance of the hearing; an impartial tribunal to decide the charges; a limited right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence; a limited right of confrontation and ...