On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 01-02-0475 and 01-04-0760.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges A. A. Rodríguez and Collester.
Petitioner Darion Fields, also known as "Weiner Fields," appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). We reverse and remand for procedural reasons.
Petitioner entered a negotiated plea of guilty to a charge of first-degree aggravated manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1). In exchange, the State agreed to recommend: (1) that the base term not exceed twelve years; and (2) the dismissal of the remaining counts of the indictment. Pursuant to a separate agreement, petitioner pled guilty to first-degree armed robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1. The State agreed to recommend: (1) that petitioner be treated as a second-degree offender; (2) that the base term not exceed ten years concurrent to the aggravated manslaughter sentence; and (3) the dismissal of the remaining counts of this indictment. Consistent with the agreements, the judge imposed a twelve-year term with a NERA*fn1 parole disqualifier on the aggravated manslaughter conviction and a concurrent ten-year term with a NERA parole disqualifier on the armed robbery conviction.
Petitioner did not appeal. He filed pro se a PCR petition. Petitioner's arguments were:
My sentence is illegal because I was not provided my "gap time" jail credits; therefore, my sentence should be corrected.
Even if my sentence is not illegal, I still want to pursue post-conviction relief because I accepted the present plea-agreement with the understanding that I would receive all of my "gap time" jail credits. Had I known that I would not receive my credits, I would not have accepted the plea agreement; thus, I request a trial.
A different judge assigned the Office of the Public Defender's Post-Conviction Relief Unit to represent petitioner. In-grid Yurchenco, a Deputy Public Defender with the PCR Unit referred the matter to the Hudson Trial Region. She added the following:
After our review of the file and other documents, this is not a PCR but rather [it] is a Motion to Correct an Illegal Sentence.
The matter was heard by the trial judge, who denied the petition. In a two-page letter, addressed to the petitioner only, the judge treated the matter as a motion to correct an illegal sentence. On the record presented to us, it does not appear that petitioner had the benefit of counsel. However, the Prosecutor's brief asserted that petitioner was represented by Kathleen M. Boyle, a very experienced Deputy Public Defender in the Hudson Region. Defendant denies this. The Assistant Prosecutor concedes that Boyle did not file a brief.
Petitioner appeals to us, contending:
DEFENDANT WAS DEPRIVED OF HIS RIGHT TO COUNSEL WHEN THE TRIAL COURT DENIED HIS FIRST PETITION FOR POST-CONVICTION RELIEF WITHOUT ASSIGNING AN ATTORNEY ...