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Ali v. Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

November 30, 2016

JAMIL ALI
v.
DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY & CORRECTIONAL SERVICES

          Woodward, [*] Hotten, Salmon, James P. (Senior Judge, Specially Assigned), JJ.

          OPINION

          Woodward, J.

         Jamil Ali, appellant, was an inmate serving a five-year term of confinement with the Maryland Division of Correction ("DOC") for armed robbery and a concurrent five-year term for use of a handgun in a crime of violence, the latter without the possibility of parole.[1]The DOC commitment staff determined that appellant was ineligible for release on mandatory supervision, because his use of a handgun conviction rendered him ineligible for parole during his term of confinement. See Md. Code (1999, 2008 Repl. Vol., 2016 Supp.), § 7-501(b) of the Correctional Services Article ("CS"). Appellant disputed the DOC staff's determination by filing a Request for Administrative Remedy with the Warden of the Maryland Correctional Training Center. After the Warden affirmed the DOC staff's determination, and the Commissioner of Correction failed to respond to appellant's appeal, appellant filed a grievance with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS"), appellee. DPSCS upheld the determination of the DOC commitment staff. Appellant then filed a petition for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Washington County, which affirmed DPSCS's decision.

On appeal, appellant presents a single question for our review:
Does CS § 7-501(b) bar release of a prisoner by application of diminution credits when that prisoner will never become eligible for parole?

         For the reasons set forth below, we answer this question in the affirmative and accordingly, affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         BACKGROUND

         On May 9, 2011, appellant pled guilty to armed robbery and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. The Circuit Court for Baltimore County sentenced him to ten years, with five years suspended, for the armed robbery charge, and five years of incarceration for the handgun charge, to run concurrently. By statute, appellant was ineligible for parole during the five-year handgun sentence. See Md. Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.), § 4-204(c)(1)(ii) of the Criminal Law (I) Article ("CL") ("The court may not impose less than the minimum sentence of 5 years and . . . the person is not eligible for parole in less than 5 years."). The sentences commenced on September 24, 2010, and had a maximum expiration date of September 24, 2015. On September 6, 2011, the DOC commitment staff determined that appellant's diminution credits could not be applied to his sentence, which otherwise would have required appellant's release on mandatory supervision prior to the end of his term of confinement. The DOC staff based its decision on appellant's ineligibility for parole during his five-year term of confinement on the handgun charge.

         On December 21, 2011, appellant, acting pro se, filed a Request for Administrative Remedy with the Warden of the Maryland Correctional Training Center, challenging the DOC commitment staff's determination that he was ineligible for early release on mandatory supervision during his term of confinement. The Warden dismissed appellant's Request for Administrative Remedy on January 3, 2012, on the same grounds as the DOC staff; namely, that, because appellant was ineligible for parole during his term of confinement, he was also not entitled to release on mandatory supervision prior to the end of such term.

         Appellant filed an administrative appeal with the Commissioner of Correction, which was received on January 26, 2012. When the Commissioner did not respond to appellant's appeal within thirty days, [2] appellant filed a grievance with DPSCS's Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO") on March 5, 2012, challenging again the determination of the DOC commitment staff. On February 6, 2013, Scott Oakley, Executive Director of IGO, sent appellant a letter on behalf of DPSCS, upholding the DOC staff's determination.

         On March 13, 2013, appellant, acting pro se, petitioned for judicial review in the Circuit Court for Washington County. Appellant's attorney noted his appearance on April 15, 2013. The court held a hearing on August 16, 2013, and issued an oral ruling affirming the decision of DPSCS. On August 22, 2013, the court entered an order consistent with its oral ruling.

         On September 12, 2013, appellant filed his application for leave to appeal to this Court, which we denied on March 21, 2014. On April 8, 2014, appellant filed a motion for reconsideration of our order denying his application. On May 15, 2014, we issued a show cause order directing DPSCS to "show cause why [appellant's] Motion for Reconsideration and Application for Leave to Appeal should not be granted." DPSCS filed a response to our show cause order on September 17, 2014, stating that it "has no objection to the granting of the application for leave to appeal." We granted appellant's application for leave to appeal on October 27, 2014.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing an administrative decision, "[t]his Court looks through the circuit court's decision and evaluates the decision of the agency." Wilson v. Md. Dep't of Env't, 217 Md.App. 271, 283 (2014) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Such review is limited to deciding "if there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the agency's findings and conclusions, and . . . if the administrative decision is premised upon an erroneous conclusion of law." John A. v. Bd. of Educ. for Howard Cty., 400 Md. 363, 381 (2007) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         The Court of Appeals has stated that a court's review of an agency's conclusions of law is de novo. Lawson v. Bowie State Univ., 421 Md. 245, 256 (2011). Although

[a]n appellate court generally owes no deference to agency decisions on pure issues of law, and is free to substitute its judgment for that of the agency on such questions . . . [, e]ven with regard to some legal issues, a degree of deference should often be accorded the position of the administrative agency. We, therefore, ordinarily give considerable weight to the administrative agency's interpretation and application of the statute that the agency administers. Furthermore, the expertise of the agency in its own field of endeavor is entitled to judicial respect.

Mesbahi v. Md. State Bd. of Physicians, 201 Md.App. 315, 330 (2011) (citations and internal quotations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Mandatory Supervision Versus Parole

         The Court of Appeals has explained the process by which an inmate is released on mandatory supervision:

We begin with a discussion of diminution credits. Diminution credits are credits which can be "earned by inmates to reduce the lengths of their confinements." "Assuming an inmate does not forfeit diminution credits as the result of a disciplinary hearing, the inmate can earn the right to be released on a date much sooner than that designated by his or her original term of confinement." Once the inmate accumulates "sufficient credits to earn entitlement to release, the inmate is deemed released under 'mandatory supervision.'" Under CS § 7-501(a), mandatory supervision is "a conditional release from confinement [granted] to an inmate who is serving a term of confinement of more than 18 months . . . to the jurisdiction of the Division of Correction . . . and [who] has served the term or terms, less diminution credit[s]."
There are four types of diminution credits: good-conduct, work (or industrial), educational, and special project credits. Good-conduct credits, which are the subject of this appeal, are different from other diminution credits in that they are deducted "in advance from the inmate's term of confinement, subject to the inmate's future good conduct." Prior to October 1, 1992, inmates, upon incarceration, were prospectively awarded five days of good-conduct credits for each month of their sentence[, regardless of the nature of their sentence . . . ].

Stouffer v. Holbrook, 417 Md. 165, 170-71 (2010) (alterations in original) (emphasis added) (citations ...


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