On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 97-08-2441.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 15, 2008
Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Alvarez.
Defendant, Rodney Williford, appeals the Law Division's October 2, 2006 order denying him post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.
On September 17, 1999, defendant was convicted by a jury of second-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1); third-degree aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(5); third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d);*fn1 and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d). He had also been charged with first-degree attempted murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3 and 2C:5-1. The jury was unable to agree as to this count, and, at sentencing, the trial court granted the State's motion to dismiss the charge.
Defendant was sentenced on October 22, 1999, to a twenty-year extended term of imprisonment, subject to a ten-year period of parole ineligibility, on the second-degree aggravated assault, consecutive to a sentence that defendant was already serving on an aggravated manslaughter conviction. The remaining convictions were merged into the second-degree aggravated assault. In an unreported per curiam opinion, we affirmed the conviction and sentence. State v. Rodney Williford, No. A-2033-99 (App. Div. September 27, 2001). Defendant's petition for certification was denied on January 10, 2002. State v. Williford, 171 N.J. 42 (2002).
On September 30, 2003, defendant filed a pro se petition for PCR asserting ineffective assistance of counsel. A letter brief, dated July 24, 2006, was subsequently filed by counsel in support of defendant's petition. Counsel contended that failure to obtain a psychiatric evaluation and school, hospital, and prison records, in support of the theory that defendant was incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent, constituted ineffective assistance of trial counsel. In addition, the brief asserted that trial counsel was derelict in failing to investigate the alleged traumatizing effect of ten years of incarceration on defendant.
At the September 29, 2006 oral argument on the PCR application, the court found that the issues should have been raised on direct appeal and were, therefore, procedurally barred. The PCR judge also concluded that defendant's claims did not rise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel because they were mere "bald assertions" and nothing more. Because he determined that the application did not establish a prima facie case, the PCR judge denied the request for an evidentiary hearing.
On appeal, defendant raises the following points:
POINT I RULE 3:22-4 DOES NOT BAR DEFENDANT'S INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL CLAIM.
POINT II DEFENDANT ESTABLISHED A PRIMA FACIE CASE OF INEFFECTIVENESS, ENTITLING HIM TO A FULL EVIDENTIARY HEARING BELOW.
The charges against defendant arose from a February 21, 1997 incident at Riverfront State Prison, during which defendant stabbed Senior Corrections Officer Raymond Powers in the left chest area. As a result, Powers was treated for life-threatening injuries.
We do not agree with the PCR judge's conclusion that defendant's petition raised claims that should have been addressed on direct appeal. Defendant could not have asserted his attorney's failure to raise potential mental status defenses on direct appeal. The issue could only be raised via a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, in contrast, for example, to a complaint about jury charges or the outcome of a motion, which would be fully developed in the trial record. Had defendant raised claims cognizable on direct appeal, he would now be procedurally barred from consideration by way of PCR. R. 3:22-4; State v. Murray, 315 N.J. Super. ...