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State v. Riggins

Decided: July 25, 1983.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARY ANN RIGGINS, DEFENDANT



Bilder, J.s.c.

Bilder

[191 NJSuper Page 353] This is a motion to vacate sentence and retract a guilty plea on the ground that defendant did not understand that loss of

her public employment would be one of the consequences of her plea. Indeed, defendant asserts she was advised by her then attorney that no such forfeiture would result. The State contends that the forfeiture of position is a collateral consequence and therefore does not justify vacation of the plea and sentence.

Although it has been held that a lack of understanding as to the collateral consequences of deportation do not justify the withdrawal of a plea, State v. Reid, 148 N.J. Super. 263, 266 (App.Div.1977), certif. den. 75 N.J. 520 (1977), the questions as to forfeiture of public office and as to the effect of wrong advice from counsel concerning forfeiture are novel.

On March 25, 1983 defendant pled guilty to unemployment fraud -- freely acknowledging that during a period of about six months in 1979 and 1980 she applied for and obtained unemployment checks, although she was employed by the Jersey City Medical Center. In giving a factual basis for her plea, she explained that she was able to defraud the State by asserting her status as a terminated employee of CETA while failing to disclose her new employment -- a deception that resulted in the receipt of moneys to which she knew she was not entitled. As part of the plea bargain, the State agreed to recommend a noncustodial sentence with a condition that restitution be made.

At the time of the plea, defendant was employed by the Hudson County Board of Freeholders as a secretary. Following a sentence of one year probation, restitution, a $250 fine and $25 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board, the Hudson County Prosecutor filed a notice of motion to require defendant to forfeit her public office as provided by N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2. Defendant has now brought this motion to vacate the sentence and withdraw her plea on the ground she did not know the plea would result in such forfeiture. She further asserts that the question of forfeiture had been discussed with her then attorney who advised her there would not be such forfeiture. It is undenied that the question of forfeiture was not discussed in the

questioning or colloquy when the plea was taken. Nowhere in her papers or argument does defendant deny her guilt.

Before accepting a plea, a judge must be satisfied that there is a factual basis for the plea and that the plea is made voluntarily and intelligently with an "understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of the plea." R. 3:9-2. See State v. Taylor, 80 N.J. 353, 362 (1979). After a plea has been accepted, a defendant's "claim to be relieved of its consequences must be weighed against the strong interests of the State in its finality." Ibid. After a defendant has been sentenced, a more stringent standard applies. Id. at 360. A motion to withdraw a plea of guilty after sentencing is granted only to correct a manifest injustice. R. 3:21-1.

In State v. Rodriguez, 179 N.J. Super. 129 (App.Div.1981), the court set forth the factors relevant to a determination of whether a defendant should be permitted to withdraw a guilty plea after sentence:

In balancing these considerations "the touchstone is basic fairness to the defendant." State v. Taylor, supra, 80 N.J. at 364.

To be material a mistake must relate to the penal consequences of a plea. A mistake as to a collateral consequence, while it may have a significant effect upon a defendant, is not material. See State v. Reid, 148 N.J. Super. 263, 266 (App.Div.1977), certif. den. 75 N.J. 520 (1977) in which the court reversed the action of the trial court in permitting a withdrawal of a ...


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