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State v. Martini

June 28, 1996

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN MARTINI, SR., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Bergen County.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'hern, J. Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Handler, Pollock, and Stein and join in this opinion. Justices Coleman has filed a separate Dissenting opinion in which Justice Garibaldi joins.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'hern

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

STATE V. JOHN MARTINI, SR. (A-164)

Argued May 29, 1996 -- Decided June 28, 1996

O'HERN, J., writing for the Court.

Defendant was convicted of the kidnapping and murder of a Fair Lawn business executive, Irving Flax, and was sentenced to death. This Court affirmed his conviction and the proportionality of his sentence of death.

The United States Supreme Court denied defendant's petition for certiorari on October 2, 1995. The Public Defender applied to the Law Division for permission to pursue post-conviction relief on behalf of defendant over his objection, or for an evidentiary hearing on defendant's competency, as well as for a stay of execution. The Public Defender acknowledged that defendant did not wish to stay his execution or to seek any post-conviction relief.

With defendant's consent, the trial court appointed independent counsel for defendant. It also appointed a psychiatrist to examine defendant to determine his competence to waive post-conviction proceedings. At the Conclusion of a two-day competency hearing, the trial court ruled that defendant was competent to waive post-conviction proceedings and that the Public Defender could not seek post-conviction relief on defendant's behalf over his objection.

The Public Defender appealed the denial of her motion to pursue post-conviction relief on defendant's behalf. This Court expedited review of the matter and held argument on May 29, 1996.

HELD: Because the public has an interest in the reliability and integrity of a death sentencing decision that transcends the preferences of individual defendants, a special, truncated procedure for post-conviction relief is established for capital defendants who do not desire post-conviction review.

1. Under established law, a capital defendant may not waive a sentencing hearing, may not waive the presentation of mitigating evidence, and may not waive an appeal. Given the importance of post-conviction relief to ensuring the reliability and integrity of death sentences imposed in New Jersey, a capital defendant may not waive post-conviction relief, either. (pp. 4-7).

2. The Court strongly disagrees with the position of the Public Defender that defendant has had only half an appeal. Post-conviction relief is not a substitute for a direct appeal. On the other hand, there are some issues that simply cannot be raised on direct appeal, like certain ineffective assistance of counsel claims or a change in applicable standards created by subsequent case law. (pp. 7-8).

3. The Public Defender advises that there are three issues that defendant could not have raised on direct appeal. One of these is that there is new evidence suggesting that New Jersey's death penalty system is constitutionally flawed because of systemic discrimination against blacks and other minorities. The State argues that the Public Defender has no standing to raise the issue on defendant's behalf. The question, however, is not whether the Public Defender has standing, but whether the judiciary, in the discharge of its duty, must consider the issue in order to ensure the reliability of the decision to execute the defendant. (pp. 9-12).

4. One requirement for the constitutionality of a death penalty statute is the safeguard of meaningful appellate review. Post-conviction relief is part of that meaningful review. Finality of review is achieved only when our courts grant or deny post-conviction relief. (pp. 12-14).

5. There shall be a special, truncated procedure for defendants who do not desire post-conviction review. The post-conviction proceedings will be concluded expeditiously and the appeal will be accelerated. (pp. 14-16).

6. Some issues may not be amenable to summary Disposition. The issue of constitutional dimension raised by the Public Defender here -- that recent data suggests New Jersey's death penalty may be constitutionally flawed because of systemic discrimination against blacks and other minorities -- is one such issue. This issue has been raised directly in the appeal of Joseph Harris, which is scheduled to be argued before the Court on September 10, 1996. The trial court may take judicial notice of the pending appeal in Joseph Harris and its effect on this defendant's case. Both the majority and Dissent agree that a stay of defendant's execution based on the appeal in Joseph Harris would be in order. (pp. 16-18).

7. The trial court correctly resolved that defendant is competent and that his decision not to prosecute any further appeals was knowing and voluntary. The trial court also was correct to order the Public Defender to pay for the cost of the court-appointed psychiatric expert who evaluated defendant. (pp. 18-19).

Judgment dismissing the post-conviction relief application is REVERSED and the matter is remanded to the Law Division for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

JUSTICE COLEMAN, Dissenting, in which JUSTICE GARIBALDI joins, disagrees that a defendant cannot waive his right to prosecute a post-conviction relief application. Post-conviction relief proceedings are not required to establish the reliability of a death sentence. This defendant has already had the benefit of a trial and a direct appeal, including proportionality review. Whether this defendant can waive his right to pursue post-conviction relief should not be influenced by the pendency of proportionality review in the Joseph Harris case. Nonetheless, staying defendant's execution until that proportionality review is conducted by the Court is not opposed.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILENTZ and JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, and STEIN join in JUSTICE O'HERN'S opinion. JUSTICE COLEMAN filed a separate Dissenting opinion in which JUSTICE GARIBALDI joins.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by

O'HERN, J.

It is difficult to explain why a murderer who has admitted his guilt and had his conviction and sentence of death affirmed on direct appeal should not be granted his request to be executed immediately. For some, no explanation may be necessary. For others, no explanation will suffice. For those who wish to understand, we explain that under our form of government it is not the inmate on death row or the accused who determines when and whether the State shall execute a prisoner; rather, the law itself makes that determination. The public has an interest in the reliability and integrity of a death sentencing decision that transcends the preferences of individual defendants.

I

The specific question is whether to grant John Martini's request to dismiss the Office of the Public Defender's application for post-conviction relief filed on Martini's behalf but without his consent. The facts of Martini's case are set forth in detail in our two prior decisions, State v. Martini, 131 N.J. 176, 619 A.2d 1208 (1993) (Martini I), and State v. Martini, 139 N.J. 3, 651 A.2d 949 (1994) (Martini II).

Briefly, Martini kidnapped Irving Flax, a Fair Lawn business executive in 1989. He telephoned Flax's wife and demanded ransom money. Despite receiving the ransom money, Martini shot Mr. Flax in the back of the head three times, the jury found to prevent Flax from identifying him. A jury convicted Martini of, among other offenses, purposeful and knowing murder over his claim of drug dependency or diminished capacity and sentenced him to death. We affirmed his conviction of murder in Martini I and the proportionality of his sentence of death in Martini II.

On October 2, 1995, the United States Supreme Court denied Martini's petition for certiorari. Martini v. New Jersey, ___ U.S. ___, 116 S. Ct. 203, 133 L. Ed. 2d 137. The following day, the Law Division issued a warrant for defendant's execution, to take place on November 15, 1995. On October 30, 1995, the Public Defender applied to the Law Division for permission to pursue post-conviction relief on defendant's behalf over his objection, or for an evidentiary hearing on his competency, as well as for a stay of execution pending post-conviction relief proceedings. At a hearing that same day, the Public Defender acknowledged that defendant did not wish to stay his execution or seek any post-conviction relief. Defendant informed the court that this was correct. With his consent, the court appointed independent counsel for defendant from a list supplied by the Public Defender. The Court also appointed a psychiatrist to examine defendant to determine his competence to waive post-conviction proceedings. On February 14, 1996, at the Conclusion of a two-day competency hearing, the trial court ruled that defendant was competent to waive post-conviction proceedings, and that the Public Defender could not seek post-conviction relief on defendant's behalf over his objection. The trial court continued the stay of defendant's execution pending review by this Court. The Public Defender appealed the denial of her motion to pursue post-conviction relief. We expedited review of the matter and held oral argument on May 29, 1996.

II

Although the context differs, the issues are essentially the same as those that we faced in State v. Koedatich, reported at 98 N.J. 553 (1984) (Koedatich I), and 112 N.J. 225 (1988) (Koedatich II), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1017, 109 S. Ct. 813, 102 L. Ed. 2d 803 (1989), and State v. Hightower, 120 N.J. 378, 577 A.2d 99 (1990). In those cases, each defendant asked either that no mitigating evidence be presented on his behalf, that he be permitted to ask the jury to sentence him to death immediately, or that no appeal of his sentence of death be taken. Koedatich attempted to waive a jury during the penalty phase and instructed his attorney to introduce no mitigating evidence. Koedatich II, (supra) , 112 N.J. at 327. Defense counsel followed those instructions and made neither an opening nor closing statement, and presented no evidence in the penalty phase. Ibid. After the jury imposed the sentence of death, the Public Defender filed an appeal on Koedatich's behalf over his objection. An automatic stay of Koedatich's execution was entered. Koedatich asked this Court to vacate the stay of his execution and to dismiss the appeal that the Public Defender had filed on his behalf. Koedatich I, (supra) , 98 N.J. at 553. He asked to be executed immediately. We denied Koedatich's motion to dismiss his appeal or to vacate the stay of execution, but ordered that in addition to the appeal prosecuted by the Public Defender, the defendant might secure other counsel or proceed pro se in order to raise such argument on the appeal as he might feel necessary or appropriate. Ibid. The Public Defender prosecuted a successful appeal on Koedatich's behalf. In our decision of that appeal, we set forth the reasons for our earlier decision that the Public Defender's appeal should not be dismissed. We noted that "persuasive policy reasons exist for not allowing a defendant in a capital case to execute even a knowing and voluntary waiver of his right to present mitigating evidence during the penalty phase. These policy reasons are based substantially on the State's 'interest in a reliable penalty determination.'" Koedatich II, (supra) , 112 N.J. at 329-30 (quoting People v. Deere, 41 Cal. 3d 353, 710 P.2d 925, 931, 222 Cal. Rptr. 13 (Cal. 1985)). We also quoted with approval the Appellate Division's interlocutory opinion in the Hightower case *fn1 in which the court allowed a defense attorney to present mitigating evidence even over the client's express order not to contest the imposition of the death sentence:

Certainly tension exists between the desires of the client as expressed to his lawyer and the constitutional necessity to insure that the ultimate penalty is not extracted in a "wanton and freakish manner." In normal circumstances, the lawyer is required by the Rules of Professional Conduct to ...


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