On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Indictment No. 01-05-0654.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 6, 2008
Before Judges R. B. Coleman and Sabatino.
Defendant Leonard Crumbs appeals from the October 10, 2006 order denying his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR) in the Law Division, Morris County. We affirm.
Defendant was charged in Morris County Indictment No. 01-05-0654 with nine counts arising from an armed carjacking that he and co-defendant, Robert Evans, carried out in February 2002.*fn1 The nine counts include the following: first-degree carjacking, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-2(a); second-degree conspiracy to commit carjacking, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-2(a); first-degree robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1; second-degree eluding, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(b); second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b); third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b); second-degree possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:394(a); fourth-degree possession of a defaced firearm, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(d); and fourth-degree prohibited devices (hollow point bullets), N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(f). Defendant was tried in February and March 2002, and the jury found him guilty on all nine counts.
On May 3, 2002, the trial court sentenced defendant to an aggregate thirty-year prison term with approximately twenty years of ineligibility for parole. Defendant's challenges to his convictions and sentence were heard on direct appeal in June 2004, and we affirmed in an unpublished opinion dated June 24, 2004. Our Supreme Court denied defendant's petition for certification on September 29, 2004. State v. Crumbs, 181 N.J. 549 (2004). Defendant then sought PCR and his petition for such relief was denied on October 10, 2006. Defendant filed his notice of appeal from the denial of his PCR petition with this court on December 20, 2006.
In this appeal defendant raises a single contention:
THE COURT ERRED IN DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S PETITION FOR POST-CONVICTION RELIEF [BECAUSE THE DEFENDANT RECEIVED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL AT THE TRIAL LEVEL AND AS SUCH HE WAS DENIED A FAIR TRIAL].
Defendant contends the PCR judge improperly denied the petition as procedurally barred under R. 3:22-5 and urges that the matter should be remanded for a more specific statement of findings of facts and conclusions of law. In its responding brief, the State maintains: (1) that defendant's claims are procedurally barred; (2) that defendant has failed to show ineffective assistance of counsel; and (3) that no evidentiary hearing is required. We agree with the State.
The facts established at the trial in 2002 included the following. In the early hours of December 23, 2000, the defendant, Leonard Crumbs, approached the owner of a Plymouth Neon, Nicholas Amodio, as Amodio was leaving a Dunkin Donuts located in Rockaway Borough. Amodio had just put his keys in the ignition when defendant, using a ruse of asking directions, got in close proximity to Amodio, then produced and pointed a gun at him. Defendant and a co-conspirator, Robert Evans, took possession of the Plymouth Neon and sped away, leaving Amodio in the parking lot. Amodio immediately ran into the store and called the police to report the theft. He reported that he believed four people were involved as he observed another car with two occupants leaving the parking lot within seconds of the thieves speeding away in his car.
Officer Peter Grawehr of the Denville Police Department was in the vicinity of the Dunkin Donuts when he heard a broadcast from the Rockaway Borough dispatcher on the carjacking that had just occurred. Grawehr observed the Plymouth that had just been reported stolen, and he began pursuit. Officer Grawehr chased the Plymouth on Route 46 through Denville, Mountain Lakes and Parsippany, with speeds exceeding 100 m.p.h. at some points. In the Totowa-Paterson area, two state police officers joined the chase which ended when defendant crashed the Plymouth into a concrete barrier on Route 80. Grawehr saw defendant flee the car and pursued him on foot, eventually apprehending him at the bottom of a hill. The passenger, co-defendant Robert Evans, was also apprehended. Evidence retrieved from the car included a nine millimeter handgun, with eight rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber.
In this appeal, defendant alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney failed to object to comments made by the prosecution, thereby prejudicing defendant and making the outcome of the trial unreliable. The benchmark for any claim of ineffectiveness is a finding that counsel's conduct was so egregious it undermined the adversarial process, making the outcome of the trial unjust. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2064, 80 L.Ed 2d 674, 692-93 (1984). Courts look to whether there is a "reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would ...