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DeGross v. New Jersey State Parole Board

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

October 21, 2013



Submitted July 2, 2013.

On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.

Victor DeGross, appellant pro se.

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Shirley P. Dickstein, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Sabatino.


Victor DeGross, a State prison inmate, appeals from a June 29, 2011 final decision of the New Jersey State Parole Board (Board), denying him parole and establishing a 168-month future eligibility term (FET). We affirm.

DeGross is currently serving a forty-five-year term of incarceration, with a fifteen-year period of parole ineligibility, for thirteen counts of carjacking, which he committed over a three-week period between October and November 1995. These offenses were committed while DeGross was on parole from a previous crime. He pled guilty to the offenses in 1997. Prior to his most recent conviction, DeGross was previously convicted of robbery, which resulted in a seven-year indeterminate term in 1981. Following his parole on that offense, he was convicted of committing ten separate robberies and received a twenty-year term of incarceration. After serving nine years, he was granted parole in 1994. His parole was revoked in 1997, after committing the underlying offenses. He completed his parole violation while serving the present sentence.

During his present incarceration, DeGross has been adjudicated guilty of twenty-one disciplinary infractions, including fourteen infractions that were deemed serious. As a result of the infractions, he received a total of 1, 625 days loss of commutation credits and 1, 955 total days of placement in administrative segregation as sanctions.

DeGross became eligible for parole in November 2010. A two-member panel denied parole and referred the matter to a three-member panel for establishment of an FET in excess of administrative guidelines due, among other reasons, to his extensive and recurring criminal record, prior failed opportunities on parole and probation, and numerous institutional infractions. The three-member panel adopted the recommendations of the two-member panel and, on July 25, 2010 denied DeGross parole. The panel imposed a 168-month FET. The full Board affirmed the decisions of the two-member and three-member panels. The present appeal followed.

On appeal, DeGross argues that the Board's decision was not supported by the record and violated his due process rights with the exception of the 168-month FET, with which we disagree, we reject DeGross's arguments.

Judicial review of parole determinations is limited to an evaluation of whether the Parole Board acted arbitrarily or abused its discretion in rendering its decisions. In re Vey, 272 N.J.Super. 199, 205 (App. Div. 1993), aff'd, 135 N.J. 306 (1994). The actions of the Board, as an administrative agency, are presumed valid and reasonable. Alevras v. Delanoy, 245 N.J.Super. 32, 35 (App. Div. 1990), certif. denied, 126 N.J. 330 (1991). Our review is also limited to a determination of whether the agency's findings could reasonably have been reached on the credible evidence in the record. Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965); N.J. State Parole Bd. v. Cestari, 224 N.J.Super. 534, 547 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 111 N.J. 649 (1988). We will set aside an agency decision only "'if there exists in the reviewing mind a definite conviction that the determination below went so far wide of the mark that a mistake must have been made.'" Cestari, supra, 224 N.J.Super. at 547 (quoting 613 Corp. v. N.J., Div. of State Lottery, 210 N.J.Super. 485, 495 (App. Div. 1986)).

The Board's decisions are considered "highly 'individualized discretionary appraisals.'" Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 166 N.J. 113, 173 (2001) (Trantino VI) (quoting Beckworth v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 62 N.J. 348, 359 (1973)). Consequently, "the Board 'has broad but not unlimited discretionary powers'" in reviewing an inmate's parole record and rendering a release decision. Ibid. (quoting Monks v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 58 N.J. 238, 242 (1971)), see also Greenholtz v. Nebraska Penal & Corr. Complex Inmates, 442 U.S. 1, 9-10, 99 S.Ct. 2100, 2105, 60 L.Ed.2d 668, 677 (1979) ("The parole-release decision . . . depends on an amalgam of elements, some of which are factual but many of which are purely subjective ...

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