March 11, 2009
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
RASHEED SHAVEZZ COE, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 97-08-1202.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 25, 2009
Before Judges C.L. Miniman and Baxter.
Defendant, Rasheed Shavezz Coe, appeals from an April 12, 2007 order that denied his motion to withdraw his guilty plea and vacate his February 1, 2007 conviction. Defendant's motion was based on his claim that the 1997 indictment should have been dismissed because the State failed to honor his request under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-1 to -15, for transfer to New Jersey to resolve drug distribution charges that were pending against him in Hudson County. We agree with Judge Callahan's conclusion that defendant's May 25, 1999 letter to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office did not trigger the provisions of the IAD. Consequently, we affirm the denial of defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.
On May 25, 1999, while defendant was imprisoned in Pennsylvania where he was serving a sentence for manslaughter, he wrote a letter to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office. In that letter, defendant advised the prosecutor of his status as an inmate in Pennsylvania. He further explained, "I also have a possession of CDS pending with a violation of parole in Hudson County. I would willingly accept a guilty plea, if you could please run the sentence concurrent with the time I'm presently serving." At the end of the letter, he asked the prosecutor to respond to his offer.
The only response he received was on June 2, 1999, when the prosecutor lifted the Hudson County detainer that had been lodged against defendant in Pennsylvania. Defendant made no other inquiries, nor did he ever send a copy of his letter to anyone else. Although the prosecutor's office lifted its detainer on June 2, 1999, such action had no bearing on a parole violation warrant, which had also been lodged as a detainer by the New Jersey Parole Board on December 22, 1998. On August 30, 2006, when defendant completed serving his Pennsylvania sentence, he was returned to the custody of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
A few months later, on November 9, 2006, defendant pled guilty to count one of the Hudson County indictment, which charged him with third-degree possession of CDS, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10. On February 1, 2007, pursuant to the negotiated plea agreement, the judge sentenced defendant to a three-year term of imprisonment to run concurrently with a five-year term of imprisonment on an unrelated violation of probation.
On March 1, 2007, one month after he had been sentenced, defendant filed the motion that is the subject of this appeal. In that motion, defendant sought to withdraw his guilty plea and dismiss the underlying indictment on the grounds that his May 25, 1999 letter to the prosecutor triggered the provisions of the IAD. He asserted that the prosecutor's office was therefore obliged to transport him to New Jersey no later than 180 days after it received his May 1999 letter, and that its failure to do so required the dismissal of the indictment. After extensive oral argument, Judge Kevin Callahan rendered a comprehensive oral opinion on April 12, 2007, in which he denied defendant's motion.
In particular, Judge Callahan found that defendant's May 25, 1999 correspondence to the prosecutor's office was merely an "informal letter" that did not even mention or cite the IAD. The judge commented that defendant "[n]ever mentioned [the IAD]. I have doubt [that defendant] even knew of the existence of the IAD." Finding that the IAD was not triggered, much less violated, Judge Callahan denied defendant's motion.
On appeal, defendant raises a single claim:
THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR IN DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO WITHDRAW HIS GUILTY PLEA AND DISMISS THE INDICTMENT WITH PREDJUDICE BECAUSE THE STATE FAILED TO COMPLY WITH THE REQUIREMENTS UNDER THE INTERSTATE AGREEMENT ON DETAINERS ACT.
New Jersey, along with forty-seven other states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the United States, is a signatory to the IAD. State v. Pero, 370 N.J. Super. 203, 206 (App. Div. 2004). "The purpose of the IAD is to expedite [the resolution of] outstanding charges in order to protect prisoners from the adverse consequences of detainers."*fn1 Van Winkle v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 370 N.J. Super. 40, 46 (App. Div. 2004). The IAD permits the transfer of temporary custody of a prisoner by the state of imprisonment, to the state that lodged a detainer. The transfer may be made either on the prisoner's initiative, N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a), or on the initiative of the receiving state, N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-4(c).
Article III of the IAD, upon which defendant relies here, deals with an application for temporary custody made by a defendant, rather than by a prosecuting official of the receiving state. N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a) provides:
Whenever a person has entered upon a term of imprisonment in a penal or correctional institution of a party State, and whenever during the continuance of the term of imprisonment there is pending in any other party State any untried indictment, information or complaint on the basis of which a detainer has been lodged against the prisoner, he shall be brought to trial within 180 days after he shall have caused to be delivered to the prosecuting officers and the appropriate court of the prosecuting officer's jurisdiction written notice of the place of his imprisonment and his request for a final disposition to be made of the indictment, information or complaint . . . . The request of the prisoner shall be accompanied by a certificate of the appropriate official having custody of the prisoner, stating the term of commitment under which the prisoner is being held, the time already served, the time remaining to be served on the sentence, the amount of good time earned, the time of parole eligibility of the prisoner, and any decisions of the State parole agency relating to the prisoner. [N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a).]
Another portion of that same statute describes the procedures that must be followed after a prisoner initiates a request for transfer to another state. In particular, the IAD requires the inmate to forward his request for transfer to the warden of the prison in which he is currently confined in the following manner:
The written notice and request for final disposition referred to in paragraph (a) hereof shall be given or sent by the prisoner to the warden, commissioner of corrections or other official having custody of him, who shall promptly forward it together with the certificate to the appropriate prosecuting official and court by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. [N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(b).]
The warden is obliged to forward the inmate's request for an IAD transfer to the prosecutor and judge in the state in which the unresolved charge is pending:
The warden, commissioner of corrections or other official having custody of the prisoner shall forthwith notify all appropriate prosecuting officers and courts in the several jurisdictions within the State to which the prisoner's request for final disposition is being sent of the proceeding being initiated by the prisoner.
Any notification sent pursuant to this paragraph shall be accompanied by copies of the prisoner's written notice, request, and the certificate. [N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(d).]
Thus, as is evident from the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(b), an inmate's transfer request is not cognizable unless the inmate provides a copy of his request to the warden of the prison in which he is currently confined. Once the warden receives that request for transfer from the inmate, the warden is obliged to forward the inmate's request, along with the other specified documents, to appropriate officials within the state where the unresolved indictment is then pending. N.J.S.A. 1A:159A-3(d).
It is evident that the procedures to be followed under the IAD are both detailed and specific. Failure to abide by the 180-time period set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(a) requires dismissal of the indictment. N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(d). However, strict compliance with the filing of the documents referred to in N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(b), (c) and (d) is required before the State can be subjected to the sanction of dismissal of its indictment. Pero, supra, 370 N.J. Super. at 208. All four of the necessary forms must be completed and signed. Id. at 222-23. In Pero, the defendant's letter to the warden of the Connecticut prison in which he was being held specifically cited his request for transfer to Bergen County under the IAD. Id. at 209. The warden failed to properly process the required documents. Id. at 209-11. Even though the defendant's letter to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office specifically referred to his request for transfer under the IAD, we held that because the required forms were not properly completed and signed, the provisions of the IAD were not triggered and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office should not be subjected to dismissal of its indictment:
It does not serve either the legislative intent behind the IAD, or the public interest, for courts to dismiss an indictment where the prosecuting authority is not in violation of the compact. The deterrent effect of the IAD is not impaired by this recognition. The prosecutor remains at risk of dismissal for an unwarranted delay after receiving a valid, complete application for disposition. [Id. at 221-22.]
Thus, we upheld the Law Division's denial of the defendant's motion for dismissal of the indictment. Id. at 223-24.
Here, unlike Pero, defendant neither mentioned the IAD in his May 1999 letter nor forwarded the New Jersey transfer request required by N.J.S.A. 2A:159A-3(b) to the warden in Pennsylvania. In Pero, we insisted upon strict compliance with the IAD requirements and upheld the State's right to prosecute the defendant even though the defects in the paperwork were not his fault. Id. at 221-22. Accordingly, Judge Callahan correctly decided that the IAD was not triggered here, when defendant's letter failed to mention the IAD and where defendant failed to notify the warden in Pennsylvania that he was requesting transfer to New Jersey. We are satisfied that the record amply supports Judge Callahan's conclusion that because there was no IAD violation, defendant was not entitled to dismissal of the indictment.
We are mindful of the Court's recent decision in State v. Slater, ___ N.J. ___, ____ (2009) (slip op. at 1-2) where the Court held that a trial judge must apply a four-prong test in the evaluation of a defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea: 1) whether defendant has unequivocally asserted his innocence and presented specific, potentially plausible facts, and not simply a bold assertion of innocence; 2) the nature and strength of defendant's reasons for withdrawal; 3) whether the conviction resulted from a negotiated or a non-negotiated plea of guilty (the former favoring the State); and 4) whether withdrawal would result in an unfair prejudice to the State or unfair advantage to the accused.
We have been presented with no meritorious basis for remanding this matter to the Law Division for reconsideration in light of Slater. Indeed, the application of the Slater factors is clear. In particular, defendant has not asserted that he is innocent of the charges. Instead, he merely maintains that the State's technical violation of the IAD entitles him to dismissal. Thus, the first Slater prong favors the State. The third prong, namely the existence of a plea bargain, clearly favors the State. The fourth prong favors defendant because withdrawal of the plea agreement would not result in unfair prejudice to the State; the passage of time is not likely to weaken the State's case any more than it might already have been weakened by the passage of seven years between the time of defendant's arrest in 1999 and November 2006, when he entered his plea of guilty.
That brings us to the second factor, the nature and strength of defendant's reasons for withdrawal. As we have already observed, defendant's claim is meritless. Because defendant's motion was based only on his IAD claim, there was no basis for withdrawal of his guilty plea. Judge Callahan's denial of the motion was proper.