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State v. Howard

Decided: November 19, 1986.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CHARLES G. HOWARD, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Antell, Brody and Long. The opinion of the court was delivered by Antell, P.J.A.D.

Antell

[213 NJSuper Page 589] On February 7, 1985 defendant retracted his plea of not guilty previously entered and pled guilty to the crime of sexual assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2c(5). After an examination by a staff psychologist at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Avenel ("Avenel") his conduct was reported to have been characterized by a pattern of repetitive, compulsive behavior and therefore within the purview of the New Jersey Sex Offender

Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:47-1 to N.J.S.A. 2C:47-7. A private examination conducted at defendant's behest by Dr. Lawrence M. Eisenstein June 3, 1985, however, resulted in a recommended finding that defendant's conduct was "an isolated incident and not evidence of any compulsive behavioral trend." After a hearing held July 15, 1985, pursuant to State v. Horne, 56 N.J. 372 (1970), to determine defendant's psychiatric status, he was sentenced July 25, 1985 to Avenel for a term of seven years, allowed 423 days credit for time already served and ordered to pay a $25 fine to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board.

On this appeal, defendant contends that under the circumstances presented the trial court was without authority to impose the Avenel sentence since it had not advised him before accepting his guilty plea of the impact such a sentence would have on his parole opportunities. Thus, he seeks to be resentenced to state prison or granted leave to withdraw his plea.

Under an Avenel sentence the inmate does not become eligible for parole until "it shall appear to the satisfaction of the State Parole Board, after recommendation by a special classification review board . . . that such person is capable of making an acceptable social adjustment in the community." N.J.S.A. 2C:47-5. Under the ordinary sentence to the state prison system without an Avenel specification the flat parole eligibility term is one-third of the term of imprisonment. N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51; N.J.A.C. 10A:71-3.2(c)2. Hence, if defendant had been sentenced to state prison, his flat eligibility would have arisen after 28 months. The State concedes that defendant's earliest eligibility, allowing for good time and work credits, would have come about after approximately 16 months.

Rule 3:9-2 governs the entry of guilty pleas and provides that the court shall not accept such plea "without first addressing the defendant personally and determining by inquiry of the defendant and others, in the court's discretion, that . . . the plea is made voluntarily . . . and with an understanding of . . . the consequences of the plea." After the plea is entered, a defendant's

"claim to be relieved of its consequences must be weighed against the strong interest of the State in its finality." State v. Taylor, 80 N.J. 353, 362 (1979). Rule 3:21-1 states that a "motion to withdraw a plea of guilty . . . shall be made before sentencing, but the court may permit it to be made thereafter to correct a manifest injustice."

The touchstone is basic fairness to the defendant: it is crucial "that the plea bargain has been fairly reached and that defendant's reasonable expectations drawn from the terms of the bargain have been fulfilled."

State v. Rodriguez, 179 N.J. Super. 129, 135 (App.Div.1981), quoting State v. Taylor, supra, 80 N.J. at 364.

While a plea bargain should be meticulously honored, State v. Marzolf, 79 N.J. 167, 183 (1979), a defendant "attacking a guilty plea has little to lose and his contentions should be assessed with great care and realism." State v. Taylor, supra, 80 N.J. at 365. "Reasonable expectations grounded in terms of the plea bargain" should not be confused with "wishful thinking." State v. Marzolf, supra, 79 N.J. at 183.

But in State v. Kovack, 91 N.J. 476 (1982), the Supreme Court held that the imposition of a period of parole ineligibility, not explained at the time of taking the plea, lay beyond the scope of a defendant's reasonable ...


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