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State v. Buffa

Decided: February 9, 1961.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JAMES BUFFA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On petition for leave to appeal as an indigent.

Goldmann, Foley and Halpern. Goldmann, S.j.a.d.

Goldmann

[65 NJSuper Page 422] Defendant applied to the County Court for correction of allegedly illegal sentences. The application was denied, and he now seeks leave to appeal as an indigent.

I.

Defendant and one Carey were tried and found guilty of armed robbery, in violation of N.J.S. 2 A:141-1 and 2 A:151-5. On May 31, 1957 they were sentenced to serve a prison term of 7-10 years on the robbery charge (N.J.S. 2 A:141-1) and a consecutive term of 3-4 years for being armed (N.J.S. 2 A:151-5). Defendant and Carey appealed, leave being granted to proceed in forma pauperis on the basis of petitions setting out some 18 claims of error. Appellants were in regular course provided with transcripts exceeding 500 pages, at county expense. The appeal briefs thoroughly explored every ground that Buffa and Carey considered available to them at the time.

The appeal was heard by this part and decided adversely to appellants on July 3, 1958. State v. Buffa and Carey , 51 N.J. Super. 218. On appeal the Supreme Court, per curiam , affirmed essentially for the reasons stated by us. 31 N.J. 378 (January 25, 1960). Certiorari was denied by the United States Supreme Court on December 5, 1960, 81 S. Ct. 279, 5 L. Ed. 2 d 228.

Defendant's next step was his application for correction of illegal sentences, the denial of which he seeks to review. His petition for leave to appeal as an indigent sets out four grounds: (1) he was "without competent counsel for his defense and/or without the aid and advice of competent counsel in his defense, at the time of his trial" by the County Court in May 1957; (2) he was "without the aid and advice of counsel for his defense, at the time of his sentencing" on May 31, 1957; (3) the indictment was fatally defective, and therefore (4) the sentences imposed were basically illegal. In light of defendant's apparently exhaustive listing of claimed grounds for reversal of his conviction, set out in his prior application for leave to appeal in forma pauperis from his conviction and in his brief on the appeal, the grounds now asserted for correction of sentence are clearly an afterthought.

The present application is typical of many we have received, where grounds that might have and should have been asserted on the main appeal were apparently reserved for use on subsequent applications -- released one by one as the whim of the prisoner and his intra-mural advisors dictated. Each application requires careful review by the court, particularly since many of them are incomplete or so general as to be uninformative. Then follows leave to appeal granted, a free transcript and, in most cases, assignment of counsel. Not only is the county put to extra expense, the time and efforts of assigned counsel and the prosecutor's office consumed, but the court calendar taken up with appeals which, with increasing frequency, are completely without merit.

The courts are always open, as they should be, to defendants who have been dealt with unfairly. We are and must remain sensitive to claims that have any show of merit. But we should not be blind to claims that have no substance whatever, conceived in prison leisure, and -- as is quite evident to us from a consideration of more than 100 applications in the recent past -- composed with the help of what appears to be a small corps of "prison lawyers," who have law books, the latest decisions of our appellate courts and other courts, typewriters, legal paper, and all that is necessary for producing a constant flow of applications, supporting papers and briefs.

Defendant's claim of having been without the help of competent counsel at the time of trial and sentence is one that by now has a rubber-stamp familiarity. During the past two years it has appeared with monotonous regularity in application after application. As in this case, such a claim, baldly stated, sets out nothing more than a mere conclusion. Defendant makes no attempt at even the slightest show of particulars in support of his general charge. A prisoner who makes such a claim when applying for leave to appeal as an indigent must, at the very least, indicate in just what manner, in what instance or instances, counsel failed him. Without this, the claim is completely unpersuasive;

it amounts to nothing more than a gratuitous defamation of the defense attorney's reputation and an imposition on the ...


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