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Salaam v. New Jersey State Parole Board

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

July 9, 2013

RICKY SALAAM, Appellant,


Submitted January 7, 2013

On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.

Ricky Salaam appellant pro se.

Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Shirley B. Dickstein, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Graves and Espinosa.


Ricky Salaam, a state prison inmate, appeals from an August 31, 2011 decision of the New Jersey State Parole Board (Board) denying parole and establishing a thirty-six month future eligibility term (FET). For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

In 1979, a jury convicted Salaam of first-degree murder and other less serious offenses. On June 15, 1979, the court sentenced Salaam to a life term for murder and a consecutive seven-to-ten-year term for murder while armed.

Salaam was paroled on July 24, 1996. However, on April 12, 2001, he pled guilty to first-degree distribution of cocaine, second-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted person, and third-degree possession of heroin with intent to distribute in a school zone. When Salaam was interviewed prior to sentencing, he stated:

I began using drugs when I came home after serving 19 1/2 years in prison, because I was having a hard time reintegrating back into society. I also began selling drugs to this one man to help support my habit. He kept coming to me asking me for drugs and I saw an opportunity to make some money to support my habit without robbing or stealing from people. Although this is an ugly situation, no one was ever physically harmed. The police raided my girlfriend's house and found 14 lbs. of marijuana, some heroin and a gun. They arrested me and I've been incarcerated since that time. If I didn't have a habit for this stuff I would not be in this situation.

On May 11, 2001, the court sentenced Salaam to an aggregate twenty-year term of imprisonment with a nine-year period of parole ineligibility to be served concurrent with any sentence imposed for his violation of parole.

Salaam became eligible for parole for the second time in April 2011. Following a hearing, a two-member Board panel denied parole and imposed a thirty-six month FET. The panel based its decision on the following factors: Salaam's prior criminal record; his incarceration for multiple crimes; prior opportunities, including probation and parole, which failed to deter Salaam's criminal activities; and his life sentence for murder, which also failed to deter his criminal conduct.

In addition, the panel found that Salaam lacks insight into his criminal behavior and minimizes his conduct; he continues to blame his co-defendants and his addiction; he does not understand the impact of his crimes on society; and he "has no concern for his criminal activity including his crimes involving gun possession." The panel also considered Salaam's risk assessment evaluation, which indicated "a high risk for recidivism."

Salaam filed an administrative appeal from the panel's decision, but the full Board affirmed the decision on August 31, 2011. In a written decision, the Board determined that the panel properly considered all of the relevant factors set forth in N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.11. In addition, the Board agreed with the panel that there is "a reasonable expectation that [Salaam] would violate the conditions of parole if released on parole at this time." See N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.53(a).

On appeal to this court, Salaam argues the decision of the Board "is arbitrary [and] capricious, and should be reversed." We do not agree.

Our scope of review is limited. Parole Board determinations are not to be reversed "unless found to be arbitrary or an abuse of discretion." Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 154 N.J. 19, 25 (1998) (citation omitted). When reviewing the decision of a state agency, such as the Board, we must determine whether the agency's findings could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence in the record. Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965). We must affirm unless the determination by the Board "'went so far wide of the mark that a mistake must have been made.'" N.J. State Parole Bd. v. Cestari, 224 N.J.Super. 534, 547 (App. Div.) (quoting 613 Corp. v. State of N.J., Div. of State Lottery, 210 N.J.Super. 485, 495 (App. Div. 1986)), certif. denied, 111 N.J. 649 (1988).

Parole Board decisions involve "highly 'individualized discretionary appraisals.'" Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 166 N.J. 113, 173 (2001) (quoting Beckworth v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 62 N.J. 348, 359 (1973)). Such decisions represent a "'discretionary assessment of a multiplicity of imponderables entailing primarily what a man is and what he may become rather than simply what he has done'" Greenholtz v Inmates of Neb Penal & Corr Complex 442 U.S. 110 99 S.Ct. 2100 2105 60 L.Ed.2d 668 677 (1979) (quoting Sanford H Kadish The Advocate and the Expert Counsel in the Peno-Correctional Process 45 Minn L Rev 803 813 (1961)) Consequently the Board "has broad but not unlimited discretionary powers" when reviewing an inmate's parole application Monks v N.J. State Parole Bd 58 N.J. 238 242 (1971) "[T]he Board's actions are always judicially reviewable for arbitrariness" Ibid

Guided by these principles we are satisfied that the Board's decision in this case is fully supported by substantial credible evidence R 2:11-3(e)(1)(D) Accordingly the decision is not arbitrary capricious or an abuse of discretion


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