On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
Before Judges J.h. Coleman, Dreier*fn1 and Villanueva.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
The State appeals, pursuant to leave granted, from the trial court's vacation of a jury verdict convicting defendant of drug offenses and permitting the defendant, over the State's objection, to plead guilty to an expired plea offer. We reverse and remand for sentencing.
The Essex County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging defendant David Williams (defendant) and codefendant Tonya Tisdale with third degree conspiracy to violate the narcotic laws of the State of New Jersey, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count one); third degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1) (count two); third degree possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(3) (count three); third degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(3) (count four); third degree possession with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance within one thousand feet of school property, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 (count five); and third degree distribution of a controlled dangerous substance within one thousand feet of school property, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 (count six).
On November 1, 1993, the trial Judge conducted a plea Disposition conference. Both defendants rejected the plea recommendation proffered by the State and elected to go to trial. The court imposed a plea cut-off date as of November 1, 1993.
Trial commenced on January 5, 1994. Prior to the selection of a jury, pretrial hearings were held on defendant Williams' motion to suppress and on the admissibility of an out-of-court identification of the defendant. The court denied these motions.
Subsequently, on the same day, defendant requested that he be permitted to accept the plea offer previously made by the State which he rejected on November 1, 1993. The court denied defendant's request based on the imposition of the plea cut-off date of November 1, 1993, and stated that the court had no authority to approve any pleas after that date. Jury selection began immediately.
On January 11, 1994, a jury acquitted co-defendant Tonya Tisdale of all charges; defendant was found guilty of count two, possession of a controlled dangerous substance; count three, possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute; count four, distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. The record does not indicate what happened to counts one, five and six.
On January 20, 1994, the State moved for an extended term of imprisonment for the defendant as a persistent offender, pursuant to R. 3:21-4(e), N.J.S.A. 2C:44-3(a) and N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(f). The defendant, pro se, moved for a directed verdict and to set aside the jury verdict. He also moved to have defense counsel removed from the case.*fn2
On March 22, 1994, after oral argument, the court ordered defendant's judgment of conviction vacated and granted defendant leave to plead to the original pretrial plea offer. The trial court stayed the order until April 1, 1994, and deferred the motion by defense counsel and defendant for a new trial. On March 24, 1994, the court denied the State's motion for reconsideration.
On March 30, 1994, we granted leave to appeal, denied the State's motion for summary reversal and stayed the trial ...