On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Indictment No. 99-03-0920.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 2, 2008
Before Judges Skillman and Graves.
On March 24, 1999, defendant was indicted for purposeful or knowing murder, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2), and various other offenses. On October 12, 1999, defendant pled guilty to an amended charge of aggravated manslaughter, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a)(1), pursuant to a plea agreement under which the State agreed to recommend a sentence of twenty years imprisonment, subject to the 85% period of parole ineligibility mandated by the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, and defendant reserved the right to ask for any lawful aggravated manslaughter sentence.
On December 10, 1999, the trial court sentenced defendant in accordance with the plea agreement to a twenty-year term of imprisonment, subject to the 85% period of parole ineligibility mandated by NERA. Defendant did not file a direct appeal from the judgment of conviction memorializing this sentence.
On December 24, 2005, defendant filed a petition for post-conviction relief based on the alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel in failing to argue for certain mitigating factors at sentencing. Defendant also contended that the court had improperly applied the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors in imposing a twenty-year sentence.
On March 19, 2007, Judge Meloni denied defendant's petition by an oral opinion. He ruled that defendant's petition was time-barred because it was not filed within the five-year period allowed under Rule 3:22-12(a), and defendant had failed to show either "excusable neglect" in not filing the petition within the allowed time or "exceptional circumstances" that would justify an extension of that time. In addition, the judge indicated that even if defendant's petition had been timely, he would have rejected her claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The judge observed that defendant's trial counsel had argued various mitigating sentencing factors, but that the sentencing court had rejected the applicability of those factors. The judge also noted that defense counsel had presented six character witnesses on defendant's behalf at the time of sentencing, including juvenile officers who testified about the progress she had made during her incarceration at the juvenile detention center.
On appeal from the denial of her petition, defendant presents the following arguments:
POINT ONE: DEFENDANT'S PETITION FOR POST-CONVICTION RELIEF SHOULD BE GRANTED.
POINT TWO: THE DEFENDANT WAS DENIED HER BASIC CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO EFFECTIVE COUNSEL.
POINT THREE: THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FAILING TO CONSIDER AND PROPERLY WEIGH AGGRAVATING AND MITIGATING FACTORS RESULTING IN AN EXCESSIVE AND ILLEGAL SENTENCE FOR THE DEFENDANT.
We reject these arguments and affirm the denial of defendant's petition substantially for the reasons set forth in Judge Meloni's comprehensive oral opinion. We also note that defendant had two adjudications of juvenile delinquency for assault and two other adjudications of delinquency for aggravated assault, which provided a sufficient factual foundation for finding aggravating sentencing factors three (N.J.S.A. 2A:44-1a(3)) and six (N.J.S.A. ...