On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 02-09-1816.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo and Baxter.
Defendant Courtney Clement appeals from a February 16, 2007 order that denied her first petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
In January and February 2004, defendant was tried for murder. The testimony at trial established that during an argument, defendant picked up a knife and stabbed the unarmed victim twice. The victim died as a result of those injuries. The case was submitted to the jury, but before the jury was able to reach a verdict, the judge declared a mistrial after a juror stated that he could not be impartial.
After granting the mistrial, the judge set the matter down for a case management conference on March 3, 2004, for the purpose of determining whether defendant would be entering a negotiated plea of guilty or whether, instead, a new trial date should be set. On March 3, 2004, defendant accepted the State's plea offer of twenty-five years imprisonment, subject to an eighty-five percent parole ineligibility term as required the No Early Release Act (NERA),*fn2 on a charge of first-degree aggravated manslaughter. In return for defendant's plea of guilty to aggravated manslaughter, the State agreed to dismiss the murder charge.
We describe the March 3, 2004 plea colloquy in some detail because defendant's PCR claims arise from that proceeding. At the beginning of the proceeding, the assistant prosecutor emphasized that the twenty-five year term of imprisonment was subject to NERA. He specifically noted that defendant would be required to serve twenty-one years, three months and one day before becoming eligible for parole. The assistant prosecutor also observed that defendant had completed the NERA supplemental plea form. The judge continued the discussion of the required NERA parole ineligibility term and specifically asked defendant whether she understood that pursuant to NERA, she would be required to serve eighty-five percent of the sentence without eligibility for parole. Defendant answered "yes."
At the beginning of the plea proceeding, the judge asked defendant whether she had been "given enough time to make up [her] mind on what [she] want[ed] to do," to which she again answered in the affirmative. Defendant also acknowledged that no one had forced her to enter a guilty plea and that she was satisfied with the legal representation provided by her lawyer.
The judge then elicited from defendant a factual basis for her plea of guilty to aggravated manslaughter. Defendant acknowledged that she stabbed the victim twice and that the victim died of those injuries. She also acknowledged that the victim was unarmed.
Immediately after defendant provided her factual statement and entered her plea of guilty, the following discussion ensued between the judge and defendant:
Q: Okay. All right, and so I should also say that I heard the facts at trial. I heard your testimony.
Q: And I think based upon your testimony alone that the jury could have found ...