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State v. Clark

Decided: December 4, 1968.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NORMAN CLARK, DEFENDANT



Galanti, B.p., J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).

Galanti

Defendant pleaded non vult on December 2, 1963 to indictment No. S-94-63 on the charge of homicide. He was sentenced to the New Jersey State Prison for not less than 15 nor more than 25 years. Defendant has filed an application for postconviction relief on the following grounds:

1. There is newly discovered medical evidence which indicates that his acts were not the natural and probable cause of the death of the victim.

2. His plea of non-vult was not voluntarily made.

3. Court-appointed counsel was ineffective, insufficient and not of defendant's own choosing.

4. The reason upon which the trial court based the imposition of sentence was erroneous, and further, failed to take into consideration the probation report.

The first contention presents a question of novel impression in the State of New Jersey, but first the court will deal with defendant's claim that his plea of non vult to the indictment was not voluntarily made. An examination of the transcript discloses that the questions propounded and the answers given thereto by defendant reveal that the judge made an exhaustive inquiry on the day the defendant pleaded, to determine whether or not his plea was voluntary and to insure that it was in fact voluntary. The argument that the plea was involuntary is without merit.

As to the contention that court-appointed counsel was ineffective, insufficient and not of his own choosing, defendant was asked whether he was satisfied with the services of the assigned counsel and he answered in the affirmative. The trial judge exhaustively questioned the accused at the time and made sure he was satisfied with his assigned counsel. The court finds that this claim is completely without merit.

Defendant alleges that he was under tranquilizing medication for "shock and depression upon learning of his wife's demise" and, as a result of his condition and the effects of the medication, was lacking the requisite mental capacity to enter a plea of non vult to the indictment voluntarily and understandingly. The court rejects this contention. Tranquilizing drugs are also known as ataractic drugs since they are intended to induce ataraxy. The term "ataraxy" means absence of anxiety, or untroubled calmness. American Psychiatric Assn. Committee on Public Information (A Psychiatric Glossary, 1957).

Tranquilizing drugs are drugs used to reduce anxiety and tension without reducing mental alertness. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, (1967). The record shows the plea was entered after defendant had consulted with his counsel, and was not accepted until the trial judge had conducted an

exhaustive inquiry into defendant's comprehension of the nature and consequence of his pleading non vult. After such inquiry the judge determined the plea to be voluntary and that defendant understood exactly what was happening. The proceeding was conducted in open court, under the fairest of conditions and with the assistance of counsel. In State v. Torzillo, 61 N.J. Super. 253 (App. Div. 1960), the court stated:

"A motion to withdraw a plea of non vult should be denied where the plea was entered by defendant or by his counsel in his presence, if defendant knew and understood what was being done and there was absent any circumstance of force, mistake, misapprehension, fear, inadvertence or ...


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