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Elijah Trammell v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

October 28, 2011


On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted October 17, 2011

Before Judges Sabatino and Fasciale.

Elijah Trammell appeals from a January 3, 2011 order by the Department of Corrections (DOC) finding him guilty of disciplinary infraction *.005, threatening another with bodily harm, in violation of N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence and contends that the DOC improperly denied his request for a polygraph examination. We affirm.

Senior Corrections Officer C. Diaz searched Trammell's cell in South Woods State Prison. Trammell approached Diaz and stated, in the presence of Senior Corrections Officer D. LeMatty, "what the fuck is wrong with you and why did you go in my shit, I should fuck you up right now." Corrections officers escorted Trammell away and immediately placed him into pre-hearing detention. Trammell pled not guilty, requested counsel substitute, and identified another inmate as his witness.

After the DOC provided the investigation and disciplinary reports to Trammell, a Hearing Officer (HO) conducted a hearing. The HO relied on consistent statements from Diaz and LeMatty that Trammell threatened bodily harm to Diaz. Trammell denied making any threats and offered a statement from the other inmate that he heard no threats. The HO, however, rejected that statement because Trammell admitted that the inmate was in another room when the incident occurred. The HO concluded that Trammell threatened Diaz and imposed a ten-day detention, 120 days of administrative segregation, and 120 days of loss of commutation time.

Trammell filed an administrative appeal and his counsel substitute asked "for [a] modification of [the] sanction due to [a] misinterpretation of [the] facts." The Assistant Superintendent reviewed the evidence and upheld the HO's ruling and related sanctions. In his written decision, the Assistant Superintendent noted that "[m]aking verbal threats to a staff member/custody will not be accepted nor tolerated. This is a serious charge and warrants no leniency consideration. The sanction imposed is proportionate to the offense."

On appeal, Trammell contends that the HO lacked substantial evidence to support the guilty finding, and that he was wrongfully denied a polygraph test. We disagree.

Our review of the DOC's decision is limited. We will only reverse when the agency's decision is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or unsupported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579-80 (1980); see also In re Taylor, 158 N.J. 644, 657 (1999) (indicating that a court must uphold an agency's findings, even if "it would have reached a different result," so long as "sufficient credible evidence in the record" exists to support the agency's conclusions).

We conclude that the final decision of the DOC is supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. Diaz and LeMatty consistently described the threat, and the other inmate's statement was discounted because he was in a different location when the incident occurred. Also, we note that Trammell had opportunity to present evidence and was represented by counsel substitute throughout the disciplinary hearing.

We reject Trammell's contention that he was wrongfully denied a polygraph test. First, there is no evidence in the record that Trammell ever requested a polygraph test. Second, even if he had requested it, "[a]n inmate's request for a polygraph examination shall not be sufficient cause for granting the request." N.J.A.C. 10A:3-7.1(c); Johnson v. Dep't of Corr., 298 N.J. Super. 79, 83 (App. Div. 1997).

An incarcerated inmate is not entitled to the full panoply of rights in a disciplinary proceeding as is a defendant in a criminal prosecution. Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 522 (1975). An inmate is entitled to written notice of the charges at least twenty-four hours prior to the hearing; an impartial tribunal; a limited right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence; a limited right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses; a right to a written statement of the evidence relied upon and the reasons for the sanctions imposed; and, where the ...

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