On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 03-06-0834.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parker and Gilroy.
Defendant Lakesha Jones appeals from a judgment of conviction entered on December 16, 2005 after she pled guilty to one count of first degree armed robbery with bodily injury, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1a(1) (Count One); four counts of first degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1a (Counts Two, Six, Seven and Eight); three counts of second degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (Counts Three, Four and Nine); two counts of third degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 (Counts Five and Twelve); two counts of second degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (Counts Ten and Eleven); three counts of second degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (Counts Three, Four and Nine); and two counts of third degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5 (Counts Five and Twelve). After the appropriate mergers, defendant was sentenced on each of the first degree offenses to concurrent terms of twelve years subject to 85% parole ineligibility pursuant to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, and four years on each of the third degree offenses concurrent with each other and the first degree sentences for an aggregate term of twelve years subject to 85% parole ineligibility. We affirm.
These charges arose from defendant's participation, with four co-defendants, in the armed robberies of two massage parlors, one in Highland Park and the other in East Brunswick on January 16, 2003. Defendant joined in the co-defendants' motion to suppress the physical evidence. After three days of evidentiary hearings, the suppression motions were denied in their entirety. Defendant then entered a plea agreement subjecting her to a maximum sentence of fifteen years. The agreement stated that "defendant is free to argue for a ten-year sentence."
During the plea colloquy on November 29, 2005, defendant testified that she was entering the plea "freely and willingly." Defendant's counsel questioned her in great detail about both of the robberies and defendant acknowledged that she was with the co-defendants when they entered the massage parlors. She identified the driver of the get-away vehicle; acknowledged that she was "a little intoxicated" on the day of the offenses; and identified the co-defendants who had the guns in each of the robberies. Defendant testified that she knew a robbery was going to occur, and gave details of what happened during the robberies, including that the victims were duct taped during the Highland Park robbery. The trial court further questioned defendant with respect to her involvement in the crimes.
At one point during the colloquy, defense counsel stated, "For the record, I notice you are upset, you are about to cry? Are you doing this voluntarily?" Defendant responded, "Yes." The court then advised defendant that it could not accept her plea "unless I hear from you, in your own words, and I'm satisfied that you did participate in the armed robberies, as alleged in this [i]ndictment." Defendant again responded, "Yes," and indicated that, although she did not take anything from the victims herself, she helped the others commit the robberies.
The court emphasized to defendant that "if you have any doubts about your plea of guilty, or your decision to plead guilty, you have a right to go to trial, and let a jury decide whether or not the State can prove your guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt. You understand that?" Defendant responded, "Yes." The court then advised defendant a second time that she did not have to plead guilty and that she could go to trial. This time, the court added, "But, of course, if you go to trial, you would be facing a significantly longer prison term, if you were convicted. You understand?" Defendant responded, "Yes." The court further asked defendant if she understood that she would be subject to the No Early Release Act and, again, she indicated that she understood.
The court then found that defendant understood her rights and the nature of the plea agreement, that she entered the plea freely and voluntarily, and that she had given an adequate factual basis for the plea.
At sentencing, when defendant's motion to withdraw the plea was argued, her counsel indicated that she was "upset" by an inaccuracy in the presentence report (PSR) indicating that she had been found guilty of all charges after a trial in Bergen County, when in fact, she had been acquitted on several counts. Defense counsel stated that defendant was concerned that the inaccuracy could affect her sentence here. Defense counsel further indicated that although defendant testified that she entered the plea voluntarily, "she was upset, she was crying . . . . [and] she seemed to be something less than fully enthusiastic about entering a plea but I don't know that that is a requirement for a plea."
Defendant then had the following exchange with the court prior to sentencing:
THE DEFENDANT: Well, the reason why I wanted to withdraw my plea is for the simple fact that I know I didn't do the crime and I know that I'm not guilty and I feel as though . . . I was forced into making [sic] a plea offer so I just, I just don't want, I just don't want to plead out to something that I didn't do.
THE COURT: So, under oath you lied in this Court about your guilt?
THE DEFENDANT: Actually I didn't lie. I feel as though I was pressured into taking the plea offer. And I was going with --
THE COURT: Well, that's a different issue, Ms. Jones. I didn't ask you whether you felt pressured or not. But I specifically asked you when you pled guilty . . . whether or not you were, in fact, guilty of these crimes. I asked you questions about these crimes and your guilt and I also asked you questions ...