On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment Nos. 1839-81, 1842-81, 1848-81.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 29, 2008
Before Judges Coburn and Grall.
Defendant James Williams appeals from an order denying his petition for relief from three judgments of conviction entered in 1982. On a prior appeal from an order dismissing defendant's 1997 petitions for post-conviction relief (PCR) from these judgments, we remanded because defendant's request for legal representation had been denied. State v. Williams, No. A-4519-98 (App. Div. Nov. 22, 2000) (slip op. at 3) (hereinafter Williams). On remand, defendant did not establish that the delay was due to his excusable neglect and did not articulate facts demonstrating a serious question of "injustice." R. 3:22-12; State v. Mitchell, 126 N.J. 565, 580 (1992). Accordingly, we affirm.
In 1982, defendant was tried separately on four separate indictments involving four separate criminal episodes in 1981. Williams, supra, slip op. at 1-2. Three of the indictments charged first-degree robbery and related offenses involving possession of a handgun -- indictments 1842-81, 1848-81 and 1839-81. Id. at 2. The fourth indictment charged felony murder, aggravated assault, first-degree robbery and related offenses involving possession of a handgun -- indictment 1702-81. Ibid. At the time of his arrest, defendant gave a statement acknowledging his role in each of the criminal episodes. A hearing on the admissibility of the statement was conducted prior to each trial, and the relevant portion of the statement was admitted into evidence at each of the separate trials. Each of the four juries found defendant guilty. The 1982 convictions were affirmed on four separate appeals, the last of which was decided on January 14, 1987. Id. at 2. On the direct appeals, when that issue was raised, this court rejected defendant's claim that the trial court erred in admitting the statement he made at the time of his arrest. State v. Williams, No. A-1189-82 (App. Div. June 17, 1985) (Indictment 1842-81); State v. Williams, No. A-1433-82 (App. Div. Mar. 19, 1982) (Indictment 1848-81); State v. Williams, No. A-1856-82 (App. Div. Jan. 14, 1987) (Indictment 1839-81). By October 7, 1987, all petitions for certification that were filed on defendant's behalf had been denied. See Williams, supra, slip op. at 2.
In 1997, nearly ten years after defendant's last petition for certification was denied and nearly fifteen years after the convictions were entered, defendant filed four separate petitions for post-conviction relief and asked the trial court to appoint counsel. Ibid. Concluding that defendant's petitions were time-barred by reason of Rule 3:22-12, the trial court denied all relief. Ibid. Defendant appealed and this court reversed on the ground that defendant was entitled to representation on his first petition for PCR. Id. at 3; see R. 3:22-6(a).
On November 29, 2004, the trial court considered and denied defendant's request for relief from his conviction on the felony murder indictment, 1702-81. We affirmed that order on appeal, and the Supreme Court denied certification. State v. Williams, No. A-2681-04 (App. Div. Mar. 15), 187 N.J. 82 (2006).
This appeal is from the denial of defendant's petition for relief from the convictions entered on indictments 1842-81, 1848-81 and 1839-81.
Defendant offered the following explanations for his failure to file a petition for PCR before May 1997: he did not have an adequate education; he did not obtain the trial transcripts until 1987; he did not know what to do with the transcripts on his own; his appellate counsel did not speak to him; and he was distressed by a series of deaths in his family -- a sister in 1988, a brother and his mother in 1990 and his father in 1991.
Defendant offered several reasons for his claim that he was entitled to relief from his three convictions for first-degree robbery. He asserted that he was illegally arrested and questioned by the police, and he claimed that he did not have effective assistance of trial counsel. He did not point to anything that the attorney who represented him at these three trials did or failed to do.*fn1 Defendant simply claimed that because he was assigned new counsel shortly before the first of the three consecutive trials, his attorney did not have time to consult with him or prepare for the trials.*fn2 Defendant asserted that he, defendant, did not know what charges would be considered at any one of the trials until the time of jury selection.
After considering the foregoing assertions and arguments presented in support of defendant's petition for relief from his convictions on indictments 1842-81, 1848-81 and 1839-81, Judge Kennedy concluded that defendant did not establish grounds for relaxation of Rule 3:22-12. In making that determination, the judge considered: the extraordinary delay; defendant's inability to explain why he waited until 1997 to file his first petition; and the obvious prejudice to the State. The judge also considered the insubstantial nature of the claims defendant asserted; he noted that this court had rejected defendant's challenges to the admissibility of his statements on direct appeal and that defendant pointed to nothing that his attorney did or failed to do that was either inconsistent with professional standards or capable of changing the outcome of any of the three trials. On that basis, the judge concluded that there was no "injustice" that would warrant consideration of the untimely petition.
Defendant raises the following issues on appeal:
I. MR. WILLIAMS WAS DEPRIVED EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF ...