This opinion holds that post-conviction relief is available at any time to a defendant whose guilty pleas were accepted by a municipal court without determining whether the pleas were offered knowingly and voluntarily.
Alexander Owczarski was charged with a substantial number of ordinance violations relating to alleged improper deposits of refuse and unsanitary conditions involving several properties owned by him. The complaints were filed in the Pemberton Township Municipal Court. At trial, Owczarski, through counsel, announced that he had "worked it out." Counsel then addressed each charge and entered a number of pleas of guilty.
Some charges were dismissed or merged. Fines were imposed amounting to $4900.
When Owczarski entered his guilty pleas, the court engaged in no colloquy whatsoever concerning his understanding of the pleas, their voluntary nature or their factual basis. No effort was made to comply with the provisions of R. 7:4-2(b), namely, that a municipal court shall not accept a guilty plea
without first addressing the defendant personally and determining by inquiring of the defendant and of others in the court's discretion that the plea is made voluntarily with understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of the plea and that there is a factual basis for the plea.
Owczarski appealed his conviction to this court and on September 12, 1988 was again found guilty. Similar sentences were imposed. No question was raised in the course of the appeal concerning the validity of the guilty pleas. On December 7, 1988, however, Owczarski filed the petition for post-conviction relief considered here. In it he claims he is entitled to have his conviction set aside because his pleas were accepted in violation of our rules and constitutions.
A. The Post-Conviction Relief Rule.
R. 3:22 permits any person convicted of a crime to file a petition for post-conviction relief. That rule is made applicable to the municipal courts by R. 7:1. See also In re Santiago, 104 N.J. Super. 110, 114-17 (Law Div.1968), aff'd 107 N.J. Super. 243 (App.Div.1969).
Most grounds for post-conviction relief are barred if they are not raised in the course of an appeal. However, there are exceptions. R. 3:22-4 provides:
Any ground for relief not raised in a prior proceeding under this rule, or in the proceedings resulting in the conviction, or in a post-conviction proceeding brought and decided prior to the adoption of this rule, or in any appeal taken in any such proceedings is barred from assertion in a proceeding under this rule unless the court on motion or at the hearing finds (a) that the ground for relief not previously asserted could not reasonably have been raised in any prior proceeding; or (b) that enforcement of the bar would result in ...