August 31, 2011
RONNIE BULLOCK, APPELLANT,
NEW JERSEY STATE PAROLE BOARD, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 19, 2011
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Ashrafi.
Appellant Ronnie Bullock appeals from a final decision of the New Jersey State Parole Board dated August 25, 2010, which affirmed the March 25, 2010 decision of a two-member panel of the Board denying him parole. We affirm.
The conviction for which Bullock is serving a sentence of imprisonment originally arose out of allegations that he had sexually abused a foster child in his care. In April 2009, he entered into a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to an amended charge of third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1b(7), for "striking[,] hitting and spanking[, the child] about the buttocks thereby attempting to cause significant bodily injury to [the child] and causing such injury." Bullock did not admit any sexual crime. He was sentenced to five years' imprisonment on June 19, 2009.
On March 25, 2010, a panel of the Parole Board denied parole and set a sixteen-month future eligibility term. On its decision form, the panel checked as reasons for denial: prior criminal record noted and insufficient problem resolution, specifically lack of insight into criminal behavior and minimizes conduct. As to the latter reason, the panel commented further that Bullock's "account of offense does not appear credible as to the behavior for which he pled guilty - lacks insight." The panel also noted four mitigating factors in favor of Bullock's application for parole: infraction free, participation in institutional programs, average to above average institutional reports, and attempt made to enroll and participate in programs but was not admitted.
Bullock filed an administrative appeal to the full Parole Board. In its written decision of August 25, 2010, the Board discussed and rejected each of Bullock's contentions, affirming the panel decision and reasons for denial of parole.
On appeal before us, Bullock argues:
PETITIONER HAS CLEARLY ESTABLISHED BY WAY OF THE EVIDENCE PRESENTED IN THE PAROLE BOARD PROCEEDING THAT HE IS ENTITLED TO PAROLE ACCORDING TO THE CLAIMS PUT FORTH IN POINT I OF HIS APPELLATE BRIEF.
A. THE BOARD PANEL FAILED TO CONSIDER MATERIAL FACTS.
B. NO PRIOR CRIMINAL RECORD OR
MINIMAL CRIMINAL RECORD.
C. RISK ASSESSMENT EVALUATION.
D. PARTICIPATION IN PROGRAM(S)
SPECIFIC TO BEHAVIOR.
E. LETTERS FROM FAMILY AND
F. CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION HAS BEEN TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION.
G. SATISFACTORY EMPLOYMENT
THE BOARD PANEL'S DECISION IS CONTRARY TO WRITTEN BOARD POLICY OR PROCEDURE.
A BOARD MEMBER PARTICIPATING IN THE DELIBERATIONS OR DISPOSITION OF THE CASE HAS A DEMONSTRABLE PERSONAL INTEREST OR DEMONSTRABLE PREJUDICE OR BIAS IN THE CASE WHICH AFFECTED THE DECISION.
A BOARD MEMBER PARTICIPATING IN THE DELIBERATIONS OR DISPOSITION OF THE CASE HAS FAILED TO COMPLY WITH THE BOARD'S PROFESSIONAL CODE OF CONDUCT.
Our standard of review of administrative decisions of the Parole Board is limited, and "grounded in strong public policy concerns and practical realities." Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., ("Trantino V") 166 N.J. 113, 200 (2001). "The decision of a parole board involves 'discretionary assessment[s] of a multiplicity of imponderables . . . .'" Id. at 201 (citing Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal & Corr. Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 10, 99 S. Ct. 2100, 2105, 60 L. Ed. 2d 668, 677 (1979)). "To a greater degree than is the case with other administrative agencies, the Parole Board's decision-making function involves individualized discretionary appraisals." Ibid. (citing Beckworth v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 62 N.J. 348, 358-59, certif. denied, 63 N.J. 583 (1973)).
Consequently, our courts may reverse the Parole Board's decision only if it is "arbitrary and capricious." Ibid. We do not disturb the Board's factual findings if they "could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence in the whole record." Id. at 172 (quoting Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd. ("Trantino IV"), 154 N.J. 19, 24 (1998)).
Applying that deferential standard of review, we find no basis to disturb the Parole Board's decision in this case. Although Bullock is correct that his "criminal record" does not contain any prior conviction for an offense that is designated a crime under N.J.S.A. 2C:1-4, the Board did not indicate that it mistook Bullock's prior charges for criminal conduct.*fn1 It simply noted the prior charge without undue emphasis. Moreover, the Board is not limited to consideration of only criminal convictions, but may take note of all convictions. See N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.11(b)(3).
With respect to Bullock's contention that the Board improperly attributed sexual abuse of a child to his conviction for aggravated assault, our review of the record reveals no evidence that the Board expected Bullock to admit he committed sexual crimes. Cf. Kosmin v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 363 N.J. Super. 28, 42 (App. Div. 2003) (inmate should not be expected to admit a matter that is not an established or adjudicated fact in the record). Rather, the hearing officer who initially reviewed Bullock's application for parole noted the established fact of the victim's age, five years old, and the panel commented that Bullock lacked insight into the nature of the crime. We have no reason to conclude that the panel meant anything other than that Bullock did not sufficiently appreciate the seriousness of aggravated assault committed upon a five-year-old foster child, especially over a period of about five years as reflected in the amended charge to which Bullock pleaded guilty.
Finally, we find insufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion in Bullock's contention that the hearing officer was biased or failed to adhere to the Parole Board's code of conduct. R. 2:11-3(e).
The Board applied the correct legal standard and considered the relevant factors under N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.11(b) in deciding to deny parole. Its decision was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable on the record presented. See McGowan v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 347 N.J. Super. 544, 563 (App. Div. 2002).