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State v. Clanton


August 4, 2008


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Indictment No. 01-02-0114-I.

Per curiam.


Submitted November 26, 2007

Before Judges Collester, C.S. Fisher and C.L. Miniman.

Tried to a jury, defendant Todd Clanton was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3; third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d) and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d). He received an aggregate sixteen-year sentence with eighty-five percent parole disqualifier pursuant to the No Early Release Act. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2(d)(1). We affirmed the conviction and sentence on direct appeal on November 29, 2004, and the Supreme Court denied certification on April 5, 2005. State v. Johnson, 183 N.J. 257 (2005). Defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) on April 11, 2006, and the trial judge denied the application following oral argument on April 21, 2006. This appeal followed.

Defendant was tried jointly with Randy Johnson and Jermaine Jackson. According to the State's proofs, the victim, Maurice Giles, sold crack cocaine on the streets of Paterson for defendant. Giles testified that Johnson supplied the drugs in exchange for seventy-five percent of the sale proceeds, and Johnson arranged for defendant to supply drugs to Giles. Giles was least acquainted with Jackson, whom he said picked up money for drug sales from other street dealers.

According to Giles, in December 1999 Jackson accused him of withholding money from drug sales. A month later the defendant waved Giles over to his car and told him, "I want my fucking money, I'm not fucking playing with you." Shortly thereafter, in February 2000, Giles was arrested for marijuana possession and remained in jail until May 19. On the day of his release, he met Johnson, who demanded money and said, "I'm not playing with you."

Three days later Giles was drinking and smoking marijuana with Derek Myles and Kareem Boyd. At about 10:30 p.m. a blue station wagon pulled up and several men jumped out of the car causing Giles, Myles and Boyd to flee. Boyd later said that while he was running, he turned around and recognized Johnson and defendant as two of the men. He heard someone call, "We got him," and then heard Giles yell out, "I don't got it." Boyd turned and saw one of the men grab Giles by the neck and throw him to the ground.

Myles told the police that three to five men including defendant and Johnson jumped out of the car carrying sticks and pipes. He said Johnson had a metal pipe, and defendant had a wooden bat. Giles testified he recognized the voices of Johnson and Jackson yelling, "Get him, get him, fuck him up. Let's fuck him up, yea." He was caught, forced to the ground, and punched and kicked. Throughout the beating he heard the men saying, "Yea, get him, fuck him up." He specifically recalled defendant saying, "Shoot him, shoot him, let's get this over with, fuck that, get him, fuck it, fuck him, shoot him, shoot him."

While he recognized the voices of the men who were beating him, Giles did not see their faces because he was shielding himself from the blows. He said when they stopped hitting him, he looked and saw "something real shiny coming at my head." The next thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital.

When police detectives interviewed Boyd and Myles that night, both men claimed they did not see the assault on Giles because they were running away. But the next day they changed their story, telling the detectives that they knew the assailants but were afraid to tell police. Minutes later, statements were taken from both Boyd and Myles. Boyd identified the defendant, Jackson and Johnson as three men who were "beating on [Giles] with long objects like pipes or sticks." However, at the trial Boyd said that defendant and Johnson were among the men chasing them, but he could not identify Jackson. He also said that he did not see anyone with "pipes and sticks" assault Giles. The State later called the detective to whom Boyd gave his statement at the detective bureau, which contrasted with his trial testimony.

On appeal from the denial of his PCR application, defendant sets forth the following arguments:





POINT V - THE DEFENDANT WAS DENIED THE EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF APPELLATE COUNSEL. Defendant's arguments relate to a readback of testimony after a request by the jury during their deliberations. The note from the jury to the judge read as follows:

Can we see/hear the testimony of . . . Kareem Boyd and Derek Myles . . . regarding their comments on their statements in detective bureau regarding Todd Clanton possessing pipes, bat, etc., Jermaine Jackson possessing pipes, bat, etc., and when exiting the car or any other time.

The judge, prosecutor, and defense counsel discussed the request, and the certified shorthand reporter located the pertinent testimony. After agreement by counsel, the shorthand reporter read back the testimony to the jury, and the jury retired to resume their deliberations. At this point the attorney for co-defendant Johnson stated that other relevant portions of Boyd's cross-examination were not read. The judge agreed to consider other parts of Boyd's direct and cross-examination, but before he could do that, a note was received that the jury had reached a verdict. The judge told counsel that he would bring the jury into the courtroom, not take their verdict, and tell them they were to consider further readback of testimony.

And I think they have a verdict, but we would like them to go back after they hear the readback and if they want to return the verdict, knock on the door. If they want to deliberate, do that until we again hear a knock and then bring them out again.

Neither counsel objected to this procedure. The jury was brought back and so instructed. Further portions of Boyd's testimony were read to the jury, and they returned to the jury room. However, counsel for Johnson insisted that other testimony of Boyd relevant to the jury's question was not read. The judge denied further readback. Six minutes after they retired, the jury returned with a guilty verdict.

Defendant argues that because his trial attorney did not identify portions of his own cross-examination of Boyd to be read back to the jury, his representation was materially ineffective and led to the defendant's conviction. He also contends that he received ineffective assistance by appellate counsel since the point was not raised on direct appeal.

The defendant identifies four sections of Boyd's cross-examination which he claims should have been read to the jury. The first is the following:

Q: Did you hear any of the people yell anything at that point?

A: Any- what people?

Q: People that had gotten out of the car.

A: No, because when I was running-no.

Q: Were you running faster than Maurice Giles?

A: Yes.

Q: And you said that someone pulled him down?

A: Yes.

Q: Now, had you ever seen anybody in that car before that night?

A: No, not that I remember.

Q: Did you see which person pulled down Maurice Giles?

A: No, I didn't.

Q: And that's the last thing you saw, right?

A: Yes.

Q: Okay. Do you remember speaking to the police later that night?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: And do you remember telling the officer that you didn't see anything because you were running the other way?

A: Yes, and that's what I'm telling you too, I didn't-I ain't see nothing as far as they said before the sticks or I seen what they pulled him down, that's all I saw.

Q: The reason I'm asking you about it is because of this voluntary statement that the Prosecutor discussed with you before. Now, when you testified Thursday you said that the police were bringing stuff to your attention you didn't really say it. Do you remember saying that on Thursday?

A: Sure do.

Q: What does that mean?

A: As far as pointing out number seven, I ain't say that, as far as the sticks, I seen them with sticks, I ain't say that neither.

Q: So you never saw anybody with sticks?

A: No.

Q: And you never saw anybody actually strike Maurice Giles?

A: No. Derrick, Derrick say he seen all that, but as far as I go-

Q: We're talking about you right now, you didn't see anything?

A: No.

However, this portion of Boyd's testimony was not part of the jury's requested readback since it did not relate to what Boyd said at the Paterson detective bureau. Instead, the cross-examination focused on Boyd's trial testimony, which was contrary to his prior statement to the police. Therefore, the claim that the testimony should have been part of the readback is simply incorrect.

Next defendant argues that the following testimony should have been read:

Q: And you also didn't see anyone actually threaten Maurice Giles?

A: No.

Q: Were you and Derrick together when you spoke to the police at the police station?

A: Yes.

Q: Were you in the same room?

A: We wasn't, we wasn't when they first took us we wasn't in the police station. They just came to his aunt's house.

Q: That was the day after though, right?

A: When they took us to the station, station.

Q: When did they take you to the station?

A: The day after.

Once again the cross-examination of Boyd's testimony does not relate to his statement given to the police.

Next, defendant claims the following testimony should have been read to the jury:

Q: Now, you said that you think there was at least four or five people that got out of that car; is that right?

A: Yes.

Q: And you really don't know who or what happened or who did what in regard to anything in this particular case; is that right?

A: Repeat that.

Q: You don't know who did what in this particular case to Mr. Giles, correct?

A: Correct.

Q: You didn't see anything right?

A: Right.

The testimony is again Boyd's testimony regarding his memory of the events of the incident and not his statement made to the police.

Defendant next argues that the following should have been read:

Q: And as far as the police officers you gave a statement, this statement on June 5th, isn't that right? Would that refresh your recollection if I show, showed you this which was marked S-11?

A: Yes, I see it.

Q: Is it June 5th-

A: Got to be it's on there.

Q: --when you gave this statement. So this was sometime after the incident; is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: When the Prosecutor went over your statement you indicated that at one portion of your statement on page 3 you indicated that Mr. Randy Johnson, you identified Mr. Randy Johnson as being one of the people that was beating on Mr. Giles; is that right?

A: No, I didn't.

This testimony does reference Boyd's statement at the police station, but it refers not to defendant, but rather to Johnson. However, the following excerpt on cross-examination was read to the jury:

Q: So if a statement said that you saw something, that statement would be incorrect then, right?

A: As far as, as far as pointing out number seven and as far as seeing them with sticks and bats I ain't seen that.

Obviously there was no significant difference between what was read and what was not read to the jury with regard to their request for the testimony of Boyd on his statement "in the detective bureau regarding Todd Clanton possessing pipes, bats, etc." Moreover, as noted by the trial judge during the PCR hearing, the readback included Boyd's recantation of the statement he made to the police. Therefore, what was clearly read back was the witness's statement and the denial of the accuracy of the statement as contained in the investigating officer's report. Accordingly, there was no error in the readback and no grounds for defendant's assertion of ineffective assistance of counsel.

In Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 685, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2063, 80 L.Ed. 2d 674, 692 (1984), the United States Supreme Court held that the constitutional guarantee of effective assistance of counsel for a criminal defendant was embodied in the Sixth Amendment. The case set forth a two-prong analysis for evaluating a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064, 80 L.Ed. 2d at 693. To prevail the defendant must first demonstrate that trial counsel committed serious professional errors. Ibid. Second, defendant must demonstrate that the professional errors prejudiced the defendant to the extent that he was deprived of a fair trial. Ibid. Our Supreme Court has adopted the standards embodied in Strickland. State v. Fritz, 105 N.J. 42, 57-58 (1987).

Scrutiny of counsel's performance must be deferential and must avoid viewing the performance under the "distorting effects of hindsight." Strickland, supra, 466 U.S. at 689, 104 S.Ct. at 2065, 80 L.Ed. 2d at 694. See also State v. Norman, 151 N.J. 5, 37 (1997). There is a strong presumption that counsel "rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment." Strickland, supra, 466 U.S. at 690, 104 S.Ct. at 2066, 80 L.Ed. 2d at 695. Adequate assistance of counsel should be measured by a "reasonable competence" standard. Fritz, supra, 105 N.J. at 60-61. That standard does not require "the best of attorneys," but rather that attorneys not be "so ineffective as to make the idea of a fair trial meaningless." State v. Davis, 116 N.J. 341, 351 (1989).

In the instant case we find that the defendant has met neither prong of the Strickland/Fritz test. As we have stated, the readback was responsive to the jury's request, and, there is no prima facie showing of ineffective assistance. Moreover, the case against defendant was buttressed by the victim's identification of defendant's voice exhorting the others to beat and shoot him. Furthermore, defendant's argument as to his appellate counsel is totally without merit. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).

Finally, we need not comment as to defendant's remaining argument as to polling the jury since defendant acknowledges in his reply brief that the jury was in fact polled as to the most serious offense of attempted murder.



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