On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County.
Approved for Publication May 26, 1997.
Before Judges Havey, Eichen and Costello. The opinion of the court was delivered by Costello, J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Costello
The opinion of the court was delivered by
COSTELLO, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned).
Defendant Jose Pena appeals from an order denying his motion to vacate his guilty plea. We find that defendant did not give an adequate factual basis during his plea allocution. We reverse and remand.
Defendant was arrested at Newark Airport by the Port Authority Police. Acting on a tip, they stopped defendant and obtained his consent to search his suitcase. The suitcase contained thirty-three and one-half pounds of cocaine. Defendant was arrested and indicted for third degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1) (count one), and first degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a(1)(count two).
At a plea conference, the trial court satisfied itself that defendant understood the terms of a proposed plea agreement and the sentencing consequences if he were to go to trial and be convicted. At the end of the court's explanation of the potential consequences, the following exchange occurred:
The Court: With that being the case, my question, my question to you, Mr. Pena, quite simply is, is it your desire to accept or reject the State's plea agreement?
The Defendant: Tell him *fn1 I do not refuse to sign plea of guilty because I find it's a need. I see myself in the situation of taking that offer. My point right now is I've always told my defense attorney, from the first moment, that I am innocent of the charges. Because I was lied to, they fool me, making me believe it was one thing and it was another.
The Court: I don't want to get into the facts of the case. Anything you say on the facts of the case could be used against you. My only question is asking simply for a yes or no answer, do you want to accept or reject the plea agreement, the plea offer?
The Defendant: Even if I claim to be guilty I know I'm innocent. God knows I'm innocent.
Ms. Rodriguez: May we approach, ...