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State v. Soto

January 15, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JUAN SOTO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Indictment No. 96-10-1184.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted October 22, 2007

Before Judges Lintner and Graves.

Defendant Juan Soto appeals from an order entered on September 14, 2006, denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). On appeal, defendant presents the following arguments:

POINT I DEFENDANT'S CONVICTIONS MUST BE REVERSED DUE TO INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF TRIAL COUNSEL; IN THE ALTERNATIVE, THIS MATTER MUST BE REMANDED FOR AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING AND/OR FOR THE PCR COURT TO MAKE FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW.

A. TRIAL COUNSEL FAILED TO REQUEST A UNANIMITY CHARGE ON THE PREDICATE FELONIES; THEREFORE, THE FELONY MURDER CONVICTION MUST BE REVERSED.

B. TRIAL COUNSEL USED CO-DEFENDANT ROBLES TO INTERPRET FOR DEFENDANT.

C. TRIAL COUNSEL FAILED TO CONSULT ADEQUATELY WITH DEFENDANT.

POINT II DEFENDANT'S CONVICTIONS MUST BE REVERSED OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, THE MATTER MUST BE REMANDED FOR AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING, BECAUSE APPELLATE COUNSEL FAILED TO RAISE ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED ISSUES.

POINT III DEFENDANT'S CONVICTIONS MUST BE REVERSED BECAUSE THE IMPROPER PROSECUTORIAL STATEMENTS DURING SUMMATION RESULTED IN FUNDAMENTAL INJUSTICE BY DEPRIVING DEFENDANT OF A FAIR TRIAL.

Except for defendant's claim that trial counsel failed to adequately communicate and confer with him regarding his case, we are convinced all of defendant's arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant extended discussion in a written opinion, R. 2:11-3(e)(2), and we affirm substantially for the reasons stated by the PCR court. But defendant's claim that he was prejudiced by trial counsel's failure to communicate and confer is remanded for further proceedings in light of this opinion.

Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a); felony murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(3); robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; conspiracy to commit robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1, and N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2; kidnapping, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1(b); burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2(a); possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39- 4(a); and possession of a crossbow for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d). At the sentencing hearing on April 24, 1998, the court merged the aggravated manslaughter and burglary convictions into the felony murder conviction and sentenced defendant to life in prison, with thirty years of parole ineligibility. After appropriate mergers, defendant received a concurrent twenty-year sentence with ten years of parole ineligibility for robbery, and the court imposed a concurrent thirty-year term with fifteen years of parole ineligibility ...


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